God is Stranger: What Happens When God Turns Up?
by Krish Kandiah (Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99)
When people suffer tragedies, they often do one of two things with their faith: they either turn to it for comfort, meaning and healing, or they abandon it, saying they can no longer believe in or have a relationship with a God who would let such hardship befall them.
But as Dr Krish Kandiah (Director of Churches in Mission for the Evangelical Alliance) suggests in his newest book, the latter approach represents a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is.
God is a father. God is both loving and strict. He is both the punisher and the forgiver. Though it is difficult to marry together the ideas of God as powerful as well as gentle, Kandiah argues that both are in fact true.
So many of our ideas of who God is come from our understanding of key Bible scenes; God clothing Adam and Eve, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, making Ezekiel an outcast – all of these show us the many facets of Him, but we often just take these scenes at face value, neglecting to search deeper to discover what they truly say about the God we believe in.
Kandiah points out that such interactions between God and his people are incredibly complex, but that God never acts without reason. Kandiah uses the example of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate his point.
When God tells Abraham of his plans to destroy the cities, Abraham is shocked. Though the cities are no doubt in trouble, destroying them would also mean killing thousands of innocent people. God in this moment seems unbearably cruel. But Kandiah points out that God is not being cruel in this instance; in fact, he is being merciful and kind.
He knows that allowing Sodom and Gomorrah to continue to exist would only invite the cities to spread more pain among their people, and so he mercifully puts an end to this pain and in the process shows Abraham the importance of living an upstanding life, in the hopes that he will spread this message to his descendants and prevent future cities from descending into such sin and violation.
Using this and many other biblical examples, Kandiah shows readers that above all, God is always trying to teach us something that will better the world around us. Seen in this light, tragedies like mass shootings, acts of terrorism and global warfare become tragedies that we can learn from, not despair of.
A God who would allow such atrocities, suggests Kandiah, is both “ a punishing God”, because innocent people die and families are torn apart, and “a benevolent God”, because from these tragedies we are given the opportunity to realise the importance of being kind, understanding and welcoming to others, in order to avoid repeats of these events.
But this does not transpire. Sodom was destroyed by God, but the world was unchanged.
This emphasis on God as many people understand him in the Old Covenant is perhaps over emphatic. Christians today are a part of the New Covenant, and their faith should perhaps be informed less by the destruction of Sodom, than by the sacrifice of Jesus.
Kamiah’s theological view of God would be challenged by other theologians, especially Catholic ones, with the idea that the God of love transcends all other ideas about Him. Evil enters in, not from what God does, or is deemed to do, but by the human rejection of the new covenant of Jesus.
Never take what you think from one source. Readers will find these themes explored from a different point of view in the recent books of Brian Grogan.
A glance at most headlines entitles us to think that the world is seemingly becoming an ever-more vicious and unfeeling place, but Krish Kandiah’s book hopes to help us to navigate that world, welcoming God and faith into our hearts as we learn to welcome others into our homes and lives, creating a better, safer, happier tomorrow.
But that tomorrow begins today, right now, with the expression of essential love to others.