God Is Stranger
Finding God in Unexpected Places
WHO: Krish Kandiah, founder and director of Home for Good, a UK charity finding homes for foster children and young refugees.
HE SAYS: “Many of us may feel that this dark side of the Bible is too embarrassing to be let out in public. So we sanitize our picture of God with a makeover that depicts him suitably at home among images of doves, rainbows, and laughing children.”
BIG IDEA: This book examines the difficult, troubling and hard to understand passages of the Bible.
THE PROGRESSION: In 12 chapters, the author puts forth stories about people from the Bible and “the stranger” (God), such as Adam, Abraham, Naomi, Mary and more. The stories examine how God turns up unexpectedly, unrecognized and unannounced, challenging our preconceived ideas of who he is.
“My aim is not to explain away the difficult bits but to allow us to feel the force of them to catch the breath of God in them, to have our eyes dazzled and our hearts ignited by these dangerous parts of Scripture.”
A CONVERSATION WITH KRISH KANDIAH
How can grasping the idea that “God is Stranger” help us when we struggle with the idea of God’s lordship?
One of the great dangers of the Christian faith is instead of worshipping the true and living God that is revealed to us in the Bible we worship a god that we ourselves have designed based on our desires or preferences. Sometimes we do this knowingly and deliberately—to deliberately avoid following the Bible’s teaching, but other times we have so deluded ourselves that although we genuinely think we are worshipping God, we have unwittingly replaced him for an idol of our own creation.
Jesus once uttered these terrifying words:
”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21–23.
Jesus is explaining that on the day of judgement, many people who think they are Christians—and say they are, and point to “spiritual” evidence such as performing miracles or prophesying—will be told that Jesus never knew them. They will be shocked to discover in fact that their so-called Lord Jesus is a stranger to them.
In my book God Is Stranger I am trying to help as many people as possible avoid this terrible fate. I am challenging those of us who call Jesus “Lord” to make sure we are genuinely giving him lordship in our lives. I do that by exploring the parts of the Bible that many of us have neglected, the more difficult parts of the Bible where God seems particularly strange, particularly difficult to understand, so that we can check that we are worshipping the true and living God and not some self-made substitute.
How can pastors best introduce the concept of God’s “strangeness” to their congregations?
I am a firm believer in the consistent teaching of the whole of Scripture in the church and in the home. All a pastor needs to do to help their congregation encounter the strangeness of God is to read the Bible and be willing to ask the difficult questions. Sometimes when I read the Bible at bedtime to my children they ask the most straightforward and difficult questions, problems that I tend to overlook through familiarity. And they do not want nice and neat answers, but honest answers that are true to the straightforward meaning of the text but that also make sense to young minds living in the 21st century. The same happens when I have the privilege of studying the Bible with people who are exploring the Christian faith—often they are not afraid to ask the tricky questions. By facing up to the awkward and disconcerting parts of the Bible we can help people encounter the true and living God.
When we are preaching, instead of avoiding the difficult verses or passages, we should get into the habit of tackling them head on. This not only helps people to meet the God of the Bible in all his majesty and complexity, but avoids the risk of misrepresenting God and the Bible. In God Is Stranger I tackle the attempted gang rape of angelic visitors to Lot’s house, the Psalms where David asks God to obliterate his enemies and the time when God picks a fight with Jacob and then loses to him. I look at these often-avoided passages in order to make sure that we have a full picture of God. I also look at familiar passages like the Christmas story and the death of Jesus and find some truths that are often avoided.
Share a little on the ties between strangers and hospitality for the Christian.
So many times in the Bible God turns up as a stranger. Abraham has three strangers visit his tent. Jacob wrestles a stranger in the night. Gideon is visited by a mysterious figure whilst threshing wheat in a wine press. In the New Testament there are so many instances where Jesus is unrecognised. We are told in Hebrews that we must “not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). In fact the author could have said some people have shown hospitality to God and not known it.
This theme in the Bible is so important that when Jesus gives us a parable that most clearly describes the day of judgement he makes our response to the needy stranger the litmus test of whether we have genuine faith: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” These are terrifying words, as this parable makes the differentiator between the wicked and the righteous whether we are willing to recognize Jesus in the stranger and pass the grace we have received from God on to others through acts of kindness and hospitality. Showing compassion toward the vulnerable is one of the defining marks of true discipleship.