What if this ancient faith we call Christianity has survived so long not in spite of but precisely because of its apparent contradictions? . . . What if it is in the difficult parts of the Bible that God is most clearly revealed? What if it is in and through our doubts that we learn the meaning of true relationship with the God who created us — of true worship? What if Christianity was never meant to be simple? (5)
In the introduction to his book Paradoxology, Krish Kandiah begins with a personal story etched into his life. Sitting in the hospital with a family whose one-year-old son was suffering after a routine surgery, the elephant in the room is the question: Why does God allow such meaningless suffering? How do we understand an omnipresent God who we can’t see or feel? How can we love a God who needs nothing but asks everything from us? How can he be so inactive while equally actively holding up the world? Who speaks silently? Who “wins as he loses”? Just who is this God whom we serve?
Kandiah doesn’t try to guard anyone from the Bible’s own questions and difficulties. If God needs no sacrifices, why did he ask Abraham to sacrifice his own promised son? Does he determine our free will? Is he really so compassionate when we consider the wars in Joshua? For Kandiah, working through these difficulties instead of shying away grows our faith. It requires us to pay attention to the Bible to see God’s just and righteous character. Kandiah looks at the Bible characters (such as Abraham, Job, Habbakkuk, Esther, and Jesus!) and how they remained obedient and faithful to God even in the midst of despair.
Kandiah structures each chapter in the same way. First there is a current story or circumstance. Why, after having already lost his wife and baby, did poor Geyoung’s father decide to return to North Korea to preach the gospel, only to be arrested and never heard from again? Second, the story brings up problems. Why does God require so much from us? Was it correct for Geyoung’s father to leave her to preach the gospel in North Korea? Does God want to watch us struggle? If he has everything, is he greedy for wanting more? Third, there is the biblical story. Abraham and Sarah are barren, God promises Abraham many descendants, and they believe him. Sometime after Isaac is born, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
Looking at the broader story, Kandiah draws out a few points of reference for the reader over how Abraham could have trusted this God. I don’t want to give too much away, but Abraham’s belief in God was not a leap of faith. Abraham had already spent years seeing that God is true, just (“shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Gen 18.25), and worthy to be praised.
God is not an idol who is here to give us the good and prosperous. No relationship should work like that on earth, and neither does our relationship with God work like that. God smashes our idols and wants us to know him. Abraham had already experienced the miraculous life of Isaac coming from the deadness of himself and Sarah (Heb 11.12). Abraham knew that God could bring life out of death (11.19). There was a relationship between Abraham and Yahweh. Abraham had seen that Yahweh was just and righteous time and time again.
Fourth, Kandiah closes with some concluding concluding thoughts, sometimes tying them in with his opening story.
The Chocolate Milk
Every chapter pretty much follows this structure, which means you know what to expect with each chapter. He brings up the challenges that many people think when they read the bible, and shows how God is trustworthy, just, and faithful.
Some paradoxes have to remain as paradoxes and simply be held together. For example, scientists have one theory for how light consists of solid particles that can hit objects, and they have a separate theory on how it is a wave and can be in two separate places at the same time (219). Scientists have to acknowledge that their brains are not wired to put these two theories together, so, rather than emphasizing one theory over the other, they hold them together. Similarly, when it comes to the Trinity, how Jesus is both man and God, and how God’s divine sovereignty and man’s free will correspond to each other, these things must be held together. We work through them, read books about them, and understand and explain their nuances, but we will never completely understand these paradoxes in this life. And that is OK.
If there was one addition I would appreciate seeing, it would be a section on recommended resources either after every chapter or at the end of the book. Some of the chapters here summarized ideas that I’ve read in other books. For instance, because I’ve read quite a few books on God’s sovereignty and man’s free will (chapter 10), there wasn’t much new here for me. It’s a similar case with chapters 3 (the Joshua Paradox) and 4 (the Job Paradox). These chapters weren’t intended to cover every detail, but having a reference tool to point readers to other books would be helpful. And though we have Amazon at our fingertips, recommendations for further reading from an author are always warmly welcomed.
For the high school or university student, to the layman, Bible teacher, and pastor, this book provides a helping comfort to know that the Bible’s paradoxes aren’t a problem—but a gift to be received, wrestled with, befuddled over, and a cause to rejoice. The God we serve has hidden himself in plain sight, and because we have his Spirit, we can read his word and we can understand him.
- Author: Krish Kandiah
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: IVP Books (February 14, 2017)
Buy it from Amazon or from IVP Academic!
Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Table of Contents
The Preface (paradox)
1. The Abraham Paradox: The God who needs nothing but asks for everything
2. The Moses Paradox: The God who is far away, so close
3. The Joshua Paradox: The God who is terribly compassionate
4. The Job Paradox: The God who is actively inactive
5. The Hosea Paradox: The God who is faithful to the unfaithful
6. The Habakkuk Paradox: The God who is consistently unpredictable
7. The Jonah Paradox: The God who is indiscriminately selective
8. The Esther Paradox: The God who speaks silently
Interlude at the Border
9. The Jesus Paradox: The God who is divinely human
10. The Judas Paradox: The God who determines our free will
11. The Cross Paradox: The God who wins as he loses
12. The Roman Paradox: The God who is effectively ineffective
13. The Corinthian Paradox: The God who fails to disappoint
Epilogue: Living with Paradox