God As A Stranger

There are many metaphors for God. I especially appreciate the feminine metaphors included in the Bible that compare God to a human mother, a mother hen, a mother bear, a mother eagle and a woman searching for a lost coin. There are dozens of metaphors for God in Scripture– rock,shepherd,light, wind, father and king. But until I heard Richard Kearney interviewed on the CBC radio program IDEAS I had never considered the metaphor of the stranger for God.

Kearny reminds us God came to Abraham and Sarah in the guise of three strangers to tell them the news they were to become parents. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the strangers and gave them food. 

Kearny points out that when the Russian Orthodox painter Andrei Rublev created his famous icon of the Trinity he chose to portray them as the three strangers who visited Abraham and Sarah. rublev-stranger-public-domain

Mary, Jesus’ mother also welcomes a stranger in the form of the angel Gabriel when she receives the news that she is going to have a baby. Kearny refers to Botticelli’s painting of Mary and Gabriel

botecelli-mary-and-gabrielbecause Mary does look somewhat hesitant about accepting this strange being and his astounding news. Mary is reaching her hand to the stranger at the same time as she is backing away from him. 

Kearny reminds us Jesus himself refers to the stranger, as someone who takes the guise of the ‘Holy One’ when he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

After Jesus’ resurrection he appears as a stranger. Mary mistakes him for the gardener and the two fellow travelers who chat with Jesus on the road to Emmaus don’t recognize him.  

What does the metaphor of God as stranger teach us? We are so often wary of strangers, yet if strangers’ faces reflect the face of God then we owe them a smile, a listening ear and perhaps even an invitation to share food with us.

This week here in Winnipeg a news story about a city transit driver who stopped his bus on a chilly morning to get out and give his shoes to a barefoot stranger has garnered  international attention. The bus driver seems surprised at all the fanfare he’s receiving. He thinks most people would do the same thing he did if they saw a stranger in need. 

Singer Joan Osborne had a hit song called What If God Was One of Us? The chorus goes………

What if God was one of us……………….. just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home? 


Filed under Art, Reflections, Religion

3 responses to “God As A Stranger

  1. John Neufeld

    I think that song was written by one of my favorite artists Martyn Joseph. He has played a couple of times in Winnipeg including this year
    s Folk Festival. Just a slob like one of us? Like us. An interesting concept.

    • I heard Martyn Joseph at the Folk Festival this year too, but he did not write this song- Eric Bazilian did. I really liked something Martyn said though before he performed this year and that was “the job of any great song is to tell you that you are not alone in the world.” Kind of fits in nicely with the idea of welcoming the stranger.

  2. Good reminder, MaryLou. We saw the original Rublev painting in Moscow this summer and it just keeps popping up everywhere, since, seems! So I need to keep contemplating it!

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