The First Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart, Free for CAPC Members
Readers are able to experience the supposedly familiar early chapters of Matthew, Luke, and John with new eyes.
“Who are you, Lord?”
When confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul — who would become the Apostle Paul — asked this question, at once acknowledging both the divinity and the unfamiliarity of Christ. This is the paradox around which Krish Kandiah’s excellent book, God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places, revolves.When we recognize how God is both strange and good, familiar and unfamiliar, and how the Bible is strange and true, we need not fear the “unhighlighted” portions of our Bibles, but read them with confidence.
It is perhaps fitting that Kandiah found the inspiration to write this book while also amongst Syrians. In his introduction, he describes how, up until a recent visit with Syrian refugees, he spent most of his Christian life studying only the “highlighted” portions of Scripture — those parts we tend to use to sanitize out the uncomfortable, the troubling, the strange. Kandiah, like many of us, preferred his Bible stories, and his God, to be uplifting and familiar, the savior he asked to be his “friend” when he responded to an altar call as a child. But in the midst of the current refugee crisis, and when faced with a Syrian refugee family in Lebanon, Kandiah found that the familiar, uplifting, highlighted Bible verses — although true — felt hollow and insufficient to address not only the great suffering of one family, but the strangeness and suffering of the world.
“Who are you, Lord?”
God is such that when we go seeking to know more about Him, we will not find tidy answers, but answers that both challenge and fulfill us in ways we never anticipated. For Kandiah, in his lifelong focus on God as a familiar friend, he had neglected the parts of the Bible that reveal God as not only stranger, but a stranger. After his experience in Lebanon, he writes,
“It was time for me to rediscover the stranger parts of my Bible… the angry parts. The eccentric parts. The politically incorrect parts. The forgotten parts. The horrific stories of executions, displacement, genocide, and depression — stories that sadly reflect much of the world today.… [In] these places God turned up, although often unannounced, uninvited, and unrecognized.” (7–8)
In discovering, or rediscovering, the strangeness of God, Kandiah invites the reader on a journey to know Him more. God Is Stranger acts as a survey through the Bible, using careful scriptural analysis and moving from Adam to Cleopas, with chapter headings such as: “Abraham and the Stranger,” “Naomi and the Stranger,” and “Mary and the Stranger.” He makes ample space for personal reflection along the way, and even titles one chapter — placed in the New Testament section right before the chapter on Jesus — “You and the Stranger.” In demonstrating how God is Absolute Other and how He shows up as a stranger in each biblical scenario, Kandiah offers an opportunity for readers to do more than just highlight the “meme-able” verses in the Bible. When we recognize how God is both strange and good, familiar and unfamiliar, and how the Bible is strange and true, we need not fear the “unhighlighted” portions of our Bibles, but read them with confidence. God does not need us to sanitize His story.
As a lifelong believer, I’ve long felt the tension Kandiah describes in this book, but also the goodness and the mystery of the strangeness of God. This is a worthy read wherever you are on your spiritual journey — whether you need a reminder or you are struggling to reconcile what feels to you like dueling natures of God. God can stand up to your scrutiny, whatever it may be, and God Is Stranger does an excellent job of painting a picture of the “deliberate strangeness” (as Kandiah says) in the metanarrative of Scripture. In the end, you will find that what makes God stranger is what makes Him God.
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