The Christian faith seems rife with paradoxes—an all-powerful God who allows suffering; a God who is distant and yet present at the same time. What if it’s in the difficult parts of the Bible that God is most clearly revealed?
Bible Gateway interviewed Krish Kandiah (@krishk) about his book, Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple (IVP Books, 2017).
Define paradox and give an example.
Krish Kandiah: A paradox consists of true statements that lead to an apparent or real contradiction in logic or intuition. The birthday paradox is a classic example: how can you reconcile these two statements?
- The boy has had three birthdays.
- The boy is 13 years old.
They appear to contradict logic and intuition. But once we discover that the boy’s birthday is 29 February, the contradiction disappears. Easy.
However, the paradoxes that come to light when we try to think about God deeply are nowhere near as easy to resolve. How can God both be always with us, and yet so often seem alarmingly distant? How can Jesus’ death bring us life? How can a God who tells us to love our enemies ordain the wiping out of a whole generation, or command genocide? Why do we bring our prayers for healing to a God who, we are forced to recognize from experience, often doesn’t oblige?
Why do you say Christianity was never meant to be simple?
Krish Kandiah: I believe that in an effort to make Christianity understandable to children and nonbelievers we’ve tried to simplify its message. These good intentions have had not so good consequences. We’ve dumbed our faith down to the extent that it neither equips us to live effectively for God in a complex world nor does it adequately reflect what the Bible actually teaches.
Sadly our attempts to make Christianity palatable have resulted in robbing Christians of their confidence to trust that the Bible is rich enough and deep enough to risk living in radical obedience to the gospel. In my book Paradoxology I explore the riches of some of the most complex and difficult parts of the Bible, not to explain them away but to show that we can understand God at a whole new level.
Why is it important for people to confront the paradoxes of the Bible and not ignore them?
Krish Kandiah: Most of the time, what we hear about in church and what we might study in our own personal reading of the Bible focuses on the same safe Bible passages, with the same comforting texts; even recycling the same anecdotes. We become expert, not in wrestling with the big questions of faith, but in filing them away. We put them into a mental folder marked ‘unanswered’. And then, one day, we find ourselves sitting beside a friend in an intensive-care unit somewhere, wondering whether we know God at all. Suddenly we realize that those questions weren’t actually safely filed away; instead, the files are overflowing, mounting up and ready to spill over the floor, or, like an over-crowded email inbox, just waiting to crash the whole system.
Paradoxology makes a bold claim: that the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it’s only by continually wrestling with them—rather than trying to pin them down or push them away—that we can really worship God, individually and together. As we search the Scriptures we find that even the most heroic figures, the models of courageous faith in the Bible, those to whom we habitually look for strength, struggled with the conundrums of God’s character. Their struggles illuminate and validate our struggles, and their faith and worship in the midst of confusion can help us in our faith and worship too.
Whether you’re exploring the Christian faith for the first time, or have been leading a church for years, the premise of this book is based on the liberating fact that the Bible has more room for doubt, uncertainty, and struggle than we’ve ever allowed ourselves to believe. God is fully able to handle our inquiries and our inconsistencies. We don’t need to protect God or the faith he’s given us from our difficult questions.
What do you mean when you write, “What if it is in the difficult parts of the Bible that God is most clearly revealed?”
Krish Kandiah: When we stick to the parts of the Bible that we like, there’s a danger that we’ve simply edited God down to suit ourselves. But when we come across difficult parts of the Bible where God is not doing what we want, this is, paradoxically, a good sign.
When you’re in a relationship and everything is going smoothly, there’s no way to tell whether the relationship will stick through the tough times. Ira Levin describes in her 1972 novel Stepford Wives a Connecticut town where all the wives are both incredibly beautiful and at the same time docile and perfectly submissive to their husbands. The men claim marital bliss but as the novel unfolds we find out that the men have replaced their wives with androids. This thriller, which has been turned into two Hollywood films, offers a critique of gender stereotypes and patriarchy—more broadly, though, it helps us to see how real relationships do and don’t work.
Perfect relationships are a myth. There will inevitably be conflict, but these clashes can in fact prove the reality and durability of the relationship. If this is true at a human level, how much more will it be true in a relationship with a perfect God? If we never experience conflict in our relationship with God, the chances are we’ve replaced the real God with a substitute god made in our own image.
Hitting up hard against the paradoxes in Scripture is a good sign that we’re in a relationship with the true God and not just a projection we’ve created to suit ourselves.
Unpack your statement in the book, “God needs nothing—yet he demands everything.”
Krish Kandiah: There are so many Bible stories that I’ve struggled to understand. One of the most perplexing is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It feels so unfair. The Bible is clear that God needs nothing; theologians call it God’s aseity—God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Yet, he demands of an elderly couple, who’ve been longing for children for longer than most of us have been alive, the child of their dreams. Why would God do this? It feels as if a rich man is stealing from beggars in the street. Rather than try to explain this story away, or give it a neat bumper sticker solution, in the Abraham Paradox we wrestle with the implications.
Every day Christians face, not the life of peace and contentment we might hope for, but impossible situations—where God seems to want them to take the hardest path, give up what is most precious to them. Why does worshipping God cost so much to those who love him, and those whom he supposedly loves? The more we reflect on the nature of God, the less these kinds of sacrifices make sense, as God is supposed to be all powerful and all sufficient. Wrestling with this fundamental question of trust must be vital for all who claim to follow him.
In the book we wrestle with many other paradoxes like this. How can God be both everywhere present, promising he’ll be with us at all times, and yet also so intangible that for much of our lives we don’t see, hear, or feel him at all? How can God tell us to love our enemies when he seems to ignore this commanding Joshua to slaughter whole cities? How do we deal with the paradox of Jesus, the one who is simultaneously fully God and fully man? What do we do about the God who is consistently unpredictable, actively inactive, who determines our free will and who speaks in silence? The book refuses simplistic answers but will help you learn how to worship with the paradox and find a richer appreciation of God in the process.
What do you hope your book will do for its readers?
Krish Kandiah: I found studying these difficult parts of the Bible incredibly liberating. I found an intense desire to pursue our mysterious God that Scripture reveals to us. I found myself hungry to know God better. I called the book Paradoxology because I found that the paradoxes in Scripture can lead us to doxology—praise and wonder and worship of God. I believe that accessible theology can be an incredible fuel for our worship of God and that is my hope for everyone who reads this book.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Krish Kandiah: I’m a big fan of Bible Gateway. I love that it’s free to use. I love that you have so many good translations available both in English and other languages. Bible Gateway is my go-to site as it’s quicker and easier to use than the other Bible software options available to me—both free and paid for. I spent numerous hours on Bible Gateway as I wrote Paradoxology, and I hope that my book will make its readers hungry for more of the Bible too. Hopefully you’ll begin seeing people even reading the more complex parts of the Bible as a result. Thanks for making Scripture available to so many so easily.
Bio: Krish Kandiah (PhD, Kings College London) is the founder and director of Home for Good, a charity finding homes for foster children and young refugees. An international speaker, he teaches regularly at Regent College and George Fox Seminary, and is the author of several books, including Home for Good: Making a Difference for Vulnerable Children.
Krish is the vice president of Tearfund, a Christian relief and development agency. Previously, he was president of London School of Theology and also on faculty at Oxford University. He has also worked with students in the UK with UCCF, and in Albania with IFES. Krish lives with his wife, Miriam, and their seven birth, adopted, and foster children.
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