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Born a Crime

Born a Crime is one of the more enjoyable books I’ve read this summer. It’s written by Trevor Noah, a South African comedian who now hosts The Daily Show.

The book recounts Noah’s childhood under apartheid, and includes many reflections on his mother’s faith. Noah is not a believer. The book uses foul language and in no way reflects a Christian worldview.

Because of this, the ending of the book caught me by surprise. I’m going to give away the ending, so if you don’t want to read a spoiler, you’ve been warned.

In 2009, Noah’s stepfather Ngisaveni Shingange drove to his mother’s home and shot her in the head and the back in front of her family. He continued to fire, but as he pointed at her head at point-blank range, the gun jammed. The bullets simply dropped to the ground. The police couldn’t understand it; the gun was in perfect working condition.

His mother began to flee, and the gun started working again. A bullet hit her in the head. It missed her spinal cord and nerves. It missed her brain. It was headed for her eye, but then redirected and came out of her nose.

“I don’t like to use this word, because I’m a man of science and I don’t believe in it. But what happened to your mother today was a miracle,” the doctor told him. “I never say that, because I hate it when people say it, but I don’t have another way to explain it.”

She was back at work in a week. The book ends with his mother telling Noah that she was praying, and that Jesus delivered her. Noah grudgingly admitted that he couldn’t argue, but then asked why Jesus didn’t pay her medical bills. Because, she explained, God gave her a son who could.

I’ve listened to the end of the audiobook twice now. Both times I’ve been flabbergasted. I’m not used to reading a book by an unbeliever that ends with an unbeliever crediting God for a miracle in answer to prayer.

I’m also surprised, though, that someone can write or read a book like this without surrendering to Jesus. God performed a miracle, Noah seems to stay. Cool story, and a great way to end the book. But that’s all.

I shouldn’t be surprised. People saw Jesus perform miracles and still refused to believe. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead,” Jesus said (Luke 16:31). As sinners we’re prone to suppress the truth about God (Romans 1:18). Sometimes that suppression takes a lot of work.

I’m glad to read a story like this. God will sometimes bring glory to himself through the most unlikely source. When this happens, I rejoice. It feels a little like the rocks crying out in praise.

But a story like this also makes me pray. Stories of misfired bullets and other miracles are no match for a rebellious heart that suppresses the truth about God. We need the Holy Spirit. Only he can awaken a heart and draw someone to himself. He, and not our cool stories, is our hope.