Malcolm Gladwell on Rediscovering His Faith

Seeing well-known public figures discuss issues of faith usually piques my interest—all the more so when such a person offers something that resonates particularly well with biblical Christianity.

That certainly seems to be the case of late with Malcolm Gladwell. A longtime writer for The New Yorker and the author of five bestselling books (including Blink, Tipping Point, and Outliers), Gladwell has become one of the more prominent literary figures working today. And in a recent piece for Relevant entitled “How I Rediscovered My Faith,” he explains how researching the story of parents who dealt with terrible tragedy has made a deep impact on his own life.

In the process of writing his latest book, David and Goliath, Gladwell interviewed a Canadian couple named Cliff and Wilma Derksen. Years ago, the Derksens experienced every parent’s worst nightmare: their daughter Candace was kidnapped, sexually abused, and murdered. What drew Gladwell to seek them out, however, was unusual nature of the Derksens’ response to their horrific ordeal. He recounts the reply they gave to a reporter asking how they felt about whoever was responsible:

“We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives,” Cliff said.

Wilma went next. “Our main concern was to find Candace. We’ve found her.” She went on: “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” but the stress was on the phrase at this point. “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to.”

As Gladwell discovers, the Derksens’ response was born out of their Mennonite Christian faith: “They weren’t heroes or saints. But something in their tradition and faith made it possible for the Derksens to do something heroic and saintly.”

This “something,” it turns out, left Gladwell a changed man. After describing himself as someone who had wandered away from his own Mennonite upbringing, he offers these striking words:

I have always believed in God. I have grasped the logic of Christian faith. What I have had a hard time seeing is God’s power. 

I put that sentence in the past tense because something happened to me when I sat in Wilma Derksen’s garden. It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith. But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary. 

Their daughter was murdered. And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at the press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness. … 

Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage. But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.

A few thoughts in response:

1.    According to the Bible, a genuine, healthy faith is one that captures not only our beliefs, but also our actions (e.g., Gal. 5:6).

2.    As illustrated by Gladwell’s article, God uses his people’s “lived faith” to spark and encourage those around them. Note Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

3.    While this certainly includes extraordinary acts of grace like that of the Derksens, it surely also encompasses the everyday faithfulness we’re called to live out in our families, jobs, schools, etc.

4.    With that in mind, what is an area of your life that you can ask God to help you “let your light shine before others”?

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