THIS is not, in any sense, an easy book, though the author’s style is engaging. He takes as his central theme a dark corner of religious experience, when believers discover that the God they thought they knew suddenly confronts them in strange and unfamiliar ways.
This is not, of course, an unusual experience. The Psalmist, and many of the greatest mystics and saints of church history, knew all about it. Kandiah, however, sets the experience in the context of a kind of contemporary Christianity which likes to display fridge magnets (his example) celebrating an essentially kind and generous God who meets all our needs and shields us from harm.
The harsh experiences of life inevitably challenge that assumption. What happens to us when God shows us, as William Cowper put it in his old hymn, not his “smiling face” but his “frowning providence”?
Is this “another” God, a Stranger who is concerned with wrath and retribution, who flattens cities and raises floods to teach his wretched creatures lessons? Or are these dark experiences the consequence of living in a creation where events have consequences through which God may well speak to us, but are not necessarily divinely ordered?
The author’s answer is two-fold. First, he delivers a series of lengthy Bible studies, sermonic in style, on the experiences of characters in the scriptures who have encountered this Stranger-God. Most of them are from the Hebrew Scriptures — Adam, Samson, David, Ezekiel among them. These he interprets to demonstrate that the God who is Stranger is also the God who is love — indeed, that light shines through the darkness of contradiction.
That experience of creative contradiction is the second strand of his case. In a series of memorable testimonies scattered through the book, several drawn from his experience, with his wife, of caring for large numbers of lone children rescued from the world’s war zones and found homes in places of safety, the same argument is pursued. In the darkest circumstances, the light shines most brightly.
I have to say that I found these words from human experience today more helpful and inspiring than the rather laboured Bible studies. God still moves in “mysterious ways” to reveal his loving purposes.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.
God is Stranger: What happens when God turns up?
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