- 2015 INDIES Finalist
- Finalist, Religion (Adult Nonfiction)
These vivid stories impart hope, insight, and inspiration for those who may be wrestling with their own faith—or lack thereof.
In the well-crafted Wrestling with God, Barbara Falconer Newhall seeks answers to the intensely personal question of why people believe in God.
As a journalist, Newhall worked for several prominent California newspapers. Her assignments tended toward the stories about faith and religion. Those stories inspired her investigation into the faith, or lack of it, of people wrestling with doubt and belief. Her personal motivations deepened when a health crisis led her to question her own belief in a benevolent god.
The book is organized around several issues that are typically raised when the topic of religion is discussed. These concerns include the clash between religion and science, usually presented as the conflict of faith and belief versus the certainty of knowledge that can be proven. Additionally, the problem of the existence of human suffering and evil is sympathetically presented, and not as an abstract concept. This situation raises the dilemma of how an all-powerful and loving god can permit such contradictions. However, the book is not substantively theological, but is rather an investigation of how people of faith approach these topics.
The book engages real people to examine how belief and nonbelief manifest in their daily lives. Newhall conducted many in-depth interviews; the stories of her interviewees are presented as narratives, in their own words. The style allows the original speakers to shine through in an appreciably real way. Subjects represent a wide spectrum of religious affiliation: a Congregational minister, a Roman Catholic nun, and a Jewish Holocaust survivor are included, as well as a Buddhist teacher, a Muslim community organizer, and a Native American. Other mesmerizing people include an avowed “happy atheist” who celebrates Christmas although he doesn’t believe in Jesus, and a shamanic witch who is also a novelist of 16th-century Celtic paganism.
The cumulative effect of these stories is fascinating. All of the accounts are absorbing in both content and technique. Buddhists sound like Buddhists and nuns sound like nuns, and the differences in the details of their faiths are easy to discern. Newhall has a profound ability to capture not only what her interviewees’ stories are, but also their voices in the telling of them. While the stories are varied and encompass diverse religious experiences, Newhall concludes “that God’s presence is not located out there somewhere.” Wrestling with God illustrates poignantly that human existence is both a miracle and a mystery, and is not easily comprehended by human intelligence.
The vivid stories in Wrestling with God impart hope, insight, and inspiration for those who may be wrestling with their own faith—or lack thereof.
Thomas H. Brennan
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