God is called Father, Lord, Friend, and Savior. But when we delve into the perplexing bits of Scripture, we discover God cannot be pinned down, explained, or predicted. Is it possible that we’ve missed the Bible’s consistent teaching that God is other, higher, stranger?
What message are you communicating in the title of this book?
Krish Kandiah: I sometimes find myself in the middle of a church service struggling with the strangeness of God. Everyone else seems to be enjoying the singing or deep in prayer or lost in wonder and I just feel lost. The Bible is supposed to be a solace in those times, but sometimes it seems to make things worse. I read of the God who turned the whole of humanity into refugees from Eden, or the God who turns up incognito to Abraham, or the God that rains down fire and brimstone on a whole middle eastern village. I read those stories and I wonder if the God of the Bible is the God I was taught in Sunday school. I wanted to write a book first of all to help people who like me find God strange, and sometimes feel that God is a stranger to them.
What are typical assumptions about God that mislead people which your book addresses?
Krish Kandiah: I was given a highlighter pen when I first became a Christian. I was told to highlight the parts of the Bible that were helpful or encouraging. Whether you use a highlighter pen, bookmarks, or a search engine, for many of us there are parts of the Bible that are deemed ‘safe’ while much of the rest of it remains unread and unexplored. God Is Stranger strays out of the confines of safe zones, away from the highlighted passages and into the dangerous territory of the strange parts of the Bible. I want to help people to meet God in all of his wonder, all of his strange beauty. This might mean an uncomfortable journey, but we’ll know that we haven’t edited God down to size to suit our tastes or desires; we’ve met with the true and living God.
What do you mean that we cannot know God if we skip the uncomfortable parts of the Bible; and what are those parts?
Krish Kandiah: Imagine that your friends decided to only listen to you when you were complimenting them and would just switch off if you told them how you were feeling, or the struggles you were having. I don’t know about you but I’d begin to doubt if my friends actually cared about me at all if they only paid attention to positive messages about them.
The temptation for many Bible readers is that we highlight the promises that make us feel better and ignore the rest. That sounds like narcissism rather than discipleship to me. Like the mythical figure that fell in love with his own reflection, often our culture encourages us to become so absorbed with ourselves that even Christians have little time to actually, genuinely, know and understand God. God remains a stranger to us.
One of the most frightening parts of the Bible is when God describes the last day and people who had performed miracles, exorcisms, and even prophecies in God’s name and God says to them: ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:23). There’s an urgency for us to make sure we really know God, and not just a twisted view of him from a selective reading of the Bible.
How does the Bible portray God to be radical and unpredictable?
Krish Kandiah: I’ve always struggled with God who, for example, chooses to pick a fight with Jacob in the middle of the night in the middle of a river. God wrestled with Jacob the renegade who has lied, cheated, and stolen his way through life. God is an announced stranger who permanently disables Jacob so that he walks with a limp for the rest of his days. It’s a familiar story to many of us but God is strange in the way that he operates in this story.
Or what about the God who asks Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days, shave off half of his beard, and cook his food using dung. Who gives Ezekiel a vision where God finds an abandoned child, brings her up as his own daughter, and then marries her, and then promises that she’ll be stripped naked and hacked to pieces by an angry mob because of her infidelities. The Bible is packed full of stories where God is strange—unpredictable—and these difficult passages are ignored by most of our preaching and teaching or our own personal Bible study.
How is God most clearly revealed in the difficult parts of the Bible?
Krish Kandiah: I am brown skinned. When I step up to a pulpit, I often see people surprised that when I speak I have an English accent and not an Indian one. I sometimes see people amazed that I speak English at all. Some people have judged me before they have met me. When I’m out with my family, we often get strange looks as my wife is Caucasian and my seven children look very different from both my wife and I. They don’t know that some are our birth children, while others are adopted. People make all sorts of comments, assuming they know from a glance everything about me. Brown people are foreign, people with lots of children are weird. I hate it when I come across this kind of prejudice.
But I wonder how God feels, when we take something that we know about God and assume that we have God understood. We read about the promise that God is going to bless us and we turn that into the idea that God is like a turbo-charged Father Christmas. We need to let the whole of the Bible inform our views about God, not just our selectivity.
How should readers of the Bible glean truths from odd and unfamiliar Bible stories?
Krish Kandiah: I think we need to recognise that God does not fear our questions. We need to acknowledge that worshipping God does not mean we switch off our brains. Being faithful to God does not mean we protect him from our doubts, questions, and queries, but instead we bring them to him. God is not afraid of our questions because he’s Lord of Heaven and Earth. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that he finds God difficult to understand; he does not see this as a problem, but something to be celebrated:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor? Romans 11:33-34 (NIV)
Why is the very act of wrestling to know an uncontainable God vital for growing one’s faith?
Krish Kandiah: Our minds were made to love God. We’re commanded to love God with our heart, soul, and mind. Contemplating the riches of God is what our minds were designed for. Just as you’re unlikely to become an Olympic swimmer by limiting yourself to paddling in the shallows, you’re unlikely to become a mature Christian by limiting your knowledge of God to familiar Bible promises. All of Scripture is God breathed and useful (2 Timothy 3:16); that means the parts of the Bible we’ve been intentionally or unintentionally avoiding are useful for our spiritual development. It’s time we dive in to the difficult texts!
How does your book challenge xenophobia in the lives of Christians?
Krish Kandiah: There’s a double meaning in the title of the book. “God is a stranger” because we don’t understand him—often because we have not wrestled with the difficult parts of the Bible. But Jesus tells us that on judgment day, he’ll come to us and say “I was a stranger.” There will be two responses on that day. To some Jesus will say, “and you welcomed me in;” to others he’ll say, “and you did not welcome me in.”
Our response to strangers is used in Scripture as a marker of our salvation. The Bible confronts xenophobia—the fear of the stranger—in the strongest possible way. God Is Stranger helps readers allow Jesus’ powerful message to transform our fears—our prejudices—so that we might truly welcome him into our lives.
What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Krish Kandiah: The Bible passage that has most recently both challenged and blessed me is Isaiah 58:6-9 (NIV):
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Krish Kandiah: I love the way that Bible Gateway makes the Bible accessible to anyone who has an internet connection. I love the number of translations that are available. It helps me to dig deeper into Scripture wherever I am.
Bio: Krish Kandiah (PhD, Kings College London) is the founder and director of Home for Good, a charity finding homes for foster children and young refugees. An international speaker, he teaches regularly at Regent College and Portland Seminary, and is the author of several books, including Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple and Home for Good: Making a Difference for Vulnerable Children.
Krish is the vice president of Tearfund, a Christian relief and development agency. Previously, he was president of London School of Theology and also on faculty at Oxford University. He has also worked with students in the UK with UCCF, and in Albania with IFES. Krish lives with his wife, Miriam, and their seven birth, adopted, and foster children.
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