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Monday, November 20, 2017

"God is Stranger" (Krish Kandiah)

TITLE: God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places
AUTHOR: Krish Kandiah
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (352 pages).

Who is God like? Is He friendly that we could hang out a beer like a buddy? Is He like what some Christians like to call "Daddy" affectionately like a little kid hugging his father after a birthday party? Do we look at external signs of God before letting our guard down? Things like seeing God's character based on our encounters with different people on earth. Like if we mix around with people who say that God is always harsh and merciless, we might end up with a perspective of God being judgmental all or most of the time. If we see God drawn as one giving teddy bears to kids, we might say Jesus is a warm and loving man who cares for little children. Truth is, many of us prefer to see the softer and kinder side of God more than anything else. The big question before us would be: Who is God as described in the Bible? For author Krish Kandiah, God is often stranger than we might think. Familiarity breeds contempt especially when it clouds our sense of discernment, letting our presumptuous past define what we see or perceive. There is mystery. God appears to people when they least expected it and turned their world upside down. Quoting Dennis Covington, this book revolves around this statement: "Mystery is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend."

Kandiah provides twelve chapters to illustrate the way God speaks to people through the ages. To Adam, we find it strange on why God the Creator drives away the very people He created. It appears like Adam was cursed when he was banished from the Garden of Eden. This turns out to be God's mercy in disguise. For Abraham, it was strange to have a first encounter with God that leads to a call to leave home. This leads to the tensions faced by Abraham: 1) doing things that seem almost impossible to do; 2) of judgment and mercy; 3) of doubt and understanding. The chapter on Jacob reveals how in the process of wrestling with God, God also heals. The story of Gideon's encounter with God keeps us asking about God's punctuality. We learn about the interplay of doubt and faith. Eventually, we are forced to deal with our own condition, whether the late arrival of God is actually a space for us to deal with our own selves. The story of Naomi is a picture of God's grace in the midst of misfortune. The story of David's relationship with God is a journey through the ups and downs of faith. It appears that God was a stranger especially when emotions go awry. Other biblical characters covered include Isaiah, Ezekiel, Mary, Jesus, and Cleopas. Interestingly, there is a chapter "You and the Stranger" to warn us about judgmentalism. The author also cautions us about swinging from one extreme to another. For instance, those of us burned by "brimstone and fire" condemnations may swing to the other extreme of total silence when it comes to sharing the gospel. Perhaps, in the midst of the passages containing judgment and hellfire, there is grace and celebration. As we read the Bible, we need to read the Word not mere literally but also in the light of God's eternal love. We may become too familiar with the passages that talk about judgment and forget that there is immense mercy waiting to spring up on us. We learn that Jesus' warnings are not meant to scare us into submission. It's to demonstrate the urgency for us to respond to His great love.

There is a strange paradox here. God is supposed to be a friend, and yet, He is also a stranger. For the most part, we meet strangers who are kind. Kandiah tells the story of a woman driving her car, wary about another car following her behind. Initially it seemed like the driver of that car was some sinister stalker waiting to do her harm. Yet, it turns out that the driver was protecting her after seeing a man hiding inside her car back seat. That is what Kandiah is trying to show us throughout the book. Like the story of Joseph who reflected on his years of bullying by his brothers, and his subsequent misadventures that what the brothers meant for evil, God had turned the whole episode around for good. We are called to be led by faith, not fear. In fear, we tend to misjudge people and blame God. In faith, we remain in an open posture that seeks God in all circumstances.

My takeaway is this. We are not to be too conceited or cocksure about what we need and how we see things. If our confidence makes us too arrogant about ourselves, we become closed in on our own points of view. Without the spiritual openness to mystery, we may not as teachable as we should be. Our restlessness is essentially a clue to our need for God. Due to our sense of dislocation, we seek for answers all the time. We realize that there is no other way we can substitute our relationship with God. It also tells us that God appears to us when we least expect it, and to hear things we least anticipated.

Krish Kandiah is the Founding Director of Home for Good, a charity that seeks to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children. He holds degrees in Chemistry, Missiology, and Theology. He is a popular speaker as well as holding teaching positions at Portland Seminary, Regent College (Vancouver), and Regents Park College (Oxford UK). He blogs at krishk.com.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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