Winners of this year’s Nobel prizes follow Jesus
John B. Goodenough is the father of the lithium-ion battery, the rechargeable power source inside your mobile phone or laptop, and a Christian. Now this Professor from the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work at Oxford University which made possible the development of lithium-ion batteries. Goodenough joins a long list of Nobel laureates who are Christian; some lists suggest 65 per cent of prize winners are followers of Christ.
The University of Chicago magazine (not a usual source for Christian testimonies, but Eternity is flexible) profiles his faith this way: “A large tapestry of the Last Supper hangs in Goodenough’s lab, and religious artefacts share space in his office with souvenirs he and his wife collected over years of world travel.
“Goodenough’s father was a professor of the history of religion and as a student at Groton, where the headmaster was a proponent of ‘muscular Christianity,’ he was expected to attend religious services regularly. But he didn’t fully embrace his faith until one night at Groton, when a dream helped him ‘get the metaphor,’ he says. ‘I understood: God is love.’ ‘Of course that’s what [the Bible] says all the time,’ he says. ‘But it was the first time I experienced the love and I almost jumped out of my bed, I was so excited.’
“The feeling has stayed with Goodenough for more than eight decades. It’s at the foundation of his work with batteries and his current quest for a super-battery. This is how he’s loving his neighbour, and his God, he says – by using his talent and working with his colleagues to create something that could help safeguard the planet and improve people’s lives.
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“I cried out, ‘God is love!’ … I jumped out of bed for joy wanting to share my discovery.” John B. Goodenough
“But really, he adds, that’s what scientists do. ‘They want to understand nature so they can serve it. And they want to understand nature so they can, in conformity with nature, do something for their fellow man.’”
In his book Witness To Grace, Goodenough writes of his boyhood dream, which followed an English lesson on The Hound of Heaven, a poem describing how the Spirit of Jesus pursued the author until he finally surrendered to its love. “When he returned home for the holidays, his father answered his questions about God by showing him ancient images of God – and gave him ‘a lecture on man’s psychological need for religious experience.’
“That night I had a dream. In the dream, the ancient images appeared one by one. As each appeared, I cried out ‘That’s not God!’ Then the hound smiled; behind the smile was a warm light, and I cried out, ‘God is love!’ The excitement of this moment awoke me from my sleep, I jumped out of bed for joy wanting to share my discovery.”
“The Holy Spirit that searches an open heart has the power and the love to free us from conformity.” – John B. Goodenough
This seed seemingly lay dormant during Goodenough’s time at Yale and service in World War II, but after obtaining PhD in physics at Chicago, he decided to seriously consider Christianity. After beginning as an “adversary” in a Bible study group, he found himself “at a fork in the road and the lines of a hymn came back to me. ‘Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide. Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside.’
“It had haunted me from time to time since it first spoke to me in the Groton School chapel. I finally made my public declaration of faith and committed myself to Christian witness. This commitment meant I would put my trust in the Holy Spirit to make acceptable my service to the Life Everlasting, which alone endures in this world of change. The resurrection of Jesus, which transformed completely the thought and the lives of those who witnessed it, testified for me that the Holy Spirit that searches an open heart has the power and the love to free us from conformity and transform us by the renewing of our mind.”
Goodenough later married Irene Wiseman, the woman who had led him to Christ.
Another winner of a 2019 Nobel prize is also a public Christian. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the 20-year war between his country and Eritrea. Abiy has also advanced the cause of women, appointing a gender-balanced cabinet and ending his nation’s habit of imprisoning rival politicians and journalists. He has appointed opposition activists to key posts. He has promoted peace between Christians and Muslims.
Abiy is a devout evangelical Pentecostal Christian of the Full Gospel Believers’ Church, according to a report in The Economist. “‘Pentes’, as both Pentecostals and more staid Protestants are known in Ethiopia, are on the march.
“Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, is a devout Pentecostal. So was his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn. Lemma Megersa, the prime minister’s closest ally and president of Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous region, is a board member of Assemblies of God, the church which hosted Nigusie in Addis Ababa in October. The rise of the Oromo wing of the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has brought even more Pentes into the highest ranks of government …
“In the 1960s, Pentes were less than 1 per cent of the national population. Today they may be as much as a quarter, packed into cities and among the fast-growing rural populations in the south and west …
“When Abiy’s church, Full Gospel Believers, tried to register in 1967, its application was rejected by the then emperor, Haile Selassie. Arrests and beatings followed, worsening under the communist regime known as the Derg. In 1979 some church members were publicly flogged as punishment for not chanting socialist slogans.
“Even during those dark times Pentecostalism won converts. In much of Oromia it has also grown with the rise of Oromo nationalism, in part because sermons are conducted in the local language, Afan Oromo, rather than Ge’ez, the ancient language of Orthodox liturgy (akin to Latin for Catholics). Most of the founders of the Oromo Liberation Front, a secessionist rebel group, were Pentes.”
The Economist is not generally sympathetic to Christianity. But it pays Abiy this compliment.
“Although there are few signs that Abiy favours Pentes at the expense of other faiths, religion seems to have shaped his politics. Many of his sermon-like speeches about love and forgiveness invoke God.”