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Book review: Questioning God by Timothy Radcliffe and Lukasz Popko

by
14 July 2023

Peter Sedgwick enjoys a Dominican dialogue about Bible questions

TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE is a well-known English Dominican whose books have often provided nourishment for Christians of all denominations. His gentle, eirenic style and profound wisdom have made him one of the most treasured spiritual guides in the past four decades. He is now in his late seventies, and in this book he joins with a much younger Polish Dominican, Lukasz Popko, for a series of conversations about “questioning God”.

Popko is an Old Testament specialist based in the École Biblique in Jerusalem, which is a Dominican foundation that has done much to bring the Bible alive by bringing it into dialogue with modern culture. The premiss of this short book is that the Bible witnesses to a God who questions us and whom in turn we can question. The title is therefore deliberately ambiguous. The passages chosen are elucidated by a conversation between the two authors. Three passages are the searching questions to Adam (“Where are you?”), Cain (“Where is Abel?”) and Abraham (“Where is Sarah your wife?”). Two are about names (Jacob and Moses); three are addressed to the prophets (Elijah, Jeremiah, and Jonah) and one is from the Song of Songs.

In the New Testament, we have Mary’s question to Gabriel, followed by Mary and Joseph challenging the lost Jesus in the Temple; the questions to Jesus (the Samaritan woman by the well, the Sadducees on “Whose wife will she be?”, and Pilate’s “What is truth?”); the questions put by Jesus (“Who do you say that I am?”, “What are these words?” on the road to Emmaus, and “Do you love me?”); and finally — and not a question — Paul’s account of the confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2.

The text is very well illustrated, with colour photos and black-and-white images. Throughout the text, Radcliffe the itinerant preacher and Popko the biblical scholar wrestle with the questions presented in the text. At all times, they are seeking to be drawn closer in to the mystery of God, believing that “these questions, which God puts to us and we to God, take us to the edge of language, beyond what the human heart has conceived. This is why so often the Word of God is poetic, inviting us beyond what can be captured by literal statement.” Christianity is an encounter with the Lord as he draws us to himself by his questioning.

There is a fresh, and dynamic, nature about these pieces, which present scripture in an attractive way, without resorting to technical theological language. They could be read as a series of Bible studies in a parish discussion group, or as personal reflection on the life of God.

There is also an excitement that runs through them as both men prepare for the opening of the Synod in Rome this October. The emphasis on listening respectfully, the presence of the Spirit, and the belief that no breakdown in communication need be final is very evident. It is a joyful account of experience, vulnerability, freedom, and the renewal of the Christian life. There is much here to enjoy and be grateful for, as these two Dominicans reveal how both the love of God and God’s questions in their lives have transformed them profoundly.

 

Canon Peter Sedgwick formerly chaired the Church in Wales Doctrine Commission, and was Principal of St Michael’s College, Llandaff.

 

Questioning God
Timothy Radcliffe and Lukasz Popko
Bloomsbury £13.99
(978-1-3994-0925-4)
Church Times Bookshop £12.59

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