Ed Stetzer: What do you mean when you say “God is stranger”?
Krish Kandiah: Well, for a start, God is stranger than we give him credit for. The Bible is full of awkward parts where God behaves in unpredictable or strange ways—although mostly I think we tend to ignore those bits.
Think about God turning up in disguise at Abraham’s tent or bargaining with him over the fate of Sodom. God—again in the form of a stranger—wrestles with Jacob and somehow both loses the fight and permanently disables him. God allows Naomi to suffer famine, displacement, widowhood, and the death of both her sons without so much as word of heavenly comfort.
What is going on in all these Bible stories? God is strange, unpredictable, and inscrutable, but perhaps we need to give attention to these darker, provocative parts of the Bible to help us to discover something we all want—a deeper understanding of who God is.
Ed: But your book makes another more urgent claim about how we treat the God who is a stranger.
Krish: Yes, it’s not just to Abraham, Jacob, and others in the Old Testament that God turns up in the guise of a stranger. In the New Testament Jesus does the same. Think about that apparently ill-informed wanderer who doesn’t know what’s been going on in Jerusalem.
On the Emmaus road it is only after the desperately disappointed disciples beg the stranger with an extraordinary grasp of Scripture into their house to break bread with them that their eyes are opened to who he is.
Time and again, it is in hospitality to the stranger that people are given a life-changing encounter with God. In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus goes as far as saying that how we respond to the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger is the ultimate test of our salvation. With a global refugee crisis going on, these are urgent questions for Christians of all political persuasions to be taking seriously. This book asks us to consider how we can follow God’s lead in our vocation, home, and family by welcoming those in need into our lives.
Ed: Why should it matter to us that God is stranger?
Krish: I had been in Christian ministry for many years before I realised that the gospel I was sharing owed more to Gnosticism than biblical Christianity. I had been mentored, trained, preached through the Book of Romans, and dared to train hundreds of Christians how to do Bible study before I realised that I had a selective reading of Scripture that ignored the majority of the Bible’s message and focused instead on four proof texts.
Those texts meant I talked a lot about individual salvation. But I was always bothered by these words of Jesus in Matthew 7:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Jesus is clear in his warning—it is not enough to call Christ “Lord.” It is not even enough to use spiritual gifts and embark in spiritual warfare. We can do all this and still find out we are not welcome in God’s kingdom because we are strangers to Jesus.
This a profoundly frightening perspective on what it means for God to be stranger. My book has to deal with this—not only the exciting adventure of getting to know a God who is a higher, other stranger, but the terrible danger of failing to do so. I believe these ideas about the strangeness of God is a neglected theme in Christian teaching and discipleship, although it can be clearly traced throughout Scripture.
Ed: Who should read your book?
Krish: This book is written for anyone who wants to know God better—anyone keen to push beyond simplistic explanations of the gospel. It is for those open to Scripture’s call to radical obedience and service. We have been touring with the message of this book across the UK and have seen incredible responses as people catch a glimpse of the impact that the grace of a stranger God makes in our lives and those around us.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.