What Good Is God?

Every few years a renowned atheist or agnostic comes out with a new book questioning the worth of religion in general and Christianity in particular. … Meanwhile, national polls in the U.S. show a steady rise in the number of people declaring “no religion” when asked about their religious affiliation—up from 2.7 percent of the population in 1957 to 16 percent in 2009. More Americans now profess “no religion” than all Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans combined. The number has nearly doubled since 1990, and in Europe the percentage is far higher.

Defenders of the Christian faith rise up with point-by-point rebuttals of the skeptics. As a journalist I approach such questions differently. I prefer to go out into the field and examine how faith works itself out, especially under extreme conditions. A faith that matters should produce positive results, thus providing an existential answer to the underlying question, “What good is God?”

Technology manufacturers have a phrase called “the tabletop test.” Engineers design wonderful new products: iPhones, netbooks, video game consoles, notebook computers, MP3 players, optical storage devices. But will the shiny new product survive actual use by consumers around the world? What happens if it gets pushed off a table accidentally or dropped on a sidewalk? Will the device still work?

I look for similar tests in the realm of faith. My travels have taken me to places where Christians face a refiner’s fire of oppression, violence and plague. This book relates stories from places like China, where the church grows spectacularly despite an atheistic government; and the Middle East, where a once-thriving church in the heartland now barely hangs on; and South Africa, where a multicolored church picks through the pieces of its racist past. In the United States I have visited not only Virginia Tech and a convention of prostitutes, but also a group of alcoholics in Chicago and two enclaves in the Bible Belt South.

When I spend time among such people my own faith undergoes a tabletop test. Do I mean what I write about from my home in Colorado? Can I believe that, as the apostle John promised in one of his letters, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”? Can I proclaim that truth with confidence to a woman struggling to feed her children without reverting to prostitution, to an alcoholic battling a lifelong addiction, to an inmate in southern Africa’s most violent prison? (Philip Yancey, What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters, Faith Words, 2010, p. 2, 3) 

 

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