Paradoxology, Krish Kandiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.
Summary: Argues that the seeming contradictions that leave many questioning the truth of Christianity are actually the points where Christian faith comes alive and addresses the depths and complexities of our lives.
My hunch is that many of us are looking for an “easy” button when it comes to matters of faith. I’ve heard people say, “just give me the simple truth, the simple gospel.” In one sense, they have a point. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) is indeed simple enough that I understood and believed it as a child.
Yet on a closer look, even this familiar verse is not so simple. God has a Son, appearing both one and more than one. Are God and Son equal, and if so what does it mean that one is begotten? God loves the world but doesn’t seem to treat his son very well. God loves the world, and yet the idea is out there that some may perish who don’t believe.
These and many other questions and seeming contradictions arise as we read the pages of scripture, and I suspect you can easily add to the questions I’ve noted, which are drawn from just one verse. For some, these have been sufficient grounds to dismiss Christianity altogether. Others mouth pat answers they were taught in Sunday school, such as “God works in mysterious ways.” Some of us just try not and think about these things at all.
Krish Kandiah takes a different approach. He honestly admits these apparent contradictions, or paradoxes, and contends that it is in the wrestling with these, that we discover a faith deep and wide and full enough to take in the complexities and contradictions that in fact are the stuff of life. He does so through a survey of thirteen paradoxes that we encounter in the pages of scripture. The chapters are as follows:
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
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
He begins with one of the narratives I have always wrestled with, the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. He explores this thoughtfully and from many angles, acknowledging the difficulties in this passage, looking at what reasoning faith must look like for Abraham, and the larger purposes of the God who will give his only Son in this same place, in fulfillment of the promises he has made to Abraham. His answers are not easy ones, but plausible, and mirror ones I’ve come to in a life of wrestling with this passage.
I will not attempt to summarize each of the chapters. He deals with Job, and God’s “active inactivity.” He explores the ultimate paradox of God incarnate, how Jesus could be both fully God and human, and the challenging case of Judas, and the paradox of choice and determinism. I found his discussion of Jonah fascinating as he explored the paradox of God as both indiscriminate and selective. He summarizes his discussion of Jonah and God’s care for the Ninevites as follows:
“The Jonah Paradox teaches that God is both highly selective and simultaneously indiscriminate with his love. In his desire that everyone is given opportunity to come to him, to love him and to love his people, God set up a chain reaction — one that falters or stutters at times, but carries on regardless, all down the centuries. Starting with Israel, he sent his people into the world to share in word and deed the good news of his grace and forgiveness, the gift of his Holy Spirit and the challenge of his coming kingdom. Sadly, time and again the chain is broken because of our indifference, hoarding of grace, fear or laziness. When we hold back we betray our God-given identity as ambassadors, prophets, light, salt, stewards, trustees, and co-workers with Christ. But as we have seen from Jonah, God is not held captive by our unwillingness to join in his mission. We are to have confidence in a God who will not be ultimately frustrated from offering his grace to a dying world by the inactivity of us, his church. But we will have lost the opportunity to join God’s family business of bringing reconciliation” (pp. 179-180).
I appreciated his chapters on Romans and Corinthians and the exploration of why both individually and collectively, we fail to live up to the ideals of holiness and love of the gospels. A former pastor, speaking generically, used to like to say, “the best of men are men at best” (a quote variously attributed to General John Lambert, A. W. Pink, and J. C. Ryle, with Lambert’s being the earliest instance). Kandiah makes a similar point that we are still in process between the “already” and the “not yet” of our calling, and are unfinished works.
He concludes with the idea that no book about paradoxes will resolve these paradoxes for us, but only give plausible explanations. These may only be understood as we live into them, which no book can do for us. He reminds us that what all these paradoxes have to do with is a relationship between us and God, and should we wonder that if human relationships are complex, that this one is even more? What Kandiah’s book does is offer hope that the embrace of paradox is a path to be preferred to suppression or suspicion, opening our lives up to a reality that is richer and fuller, rather than narrower and smaller.