So I’m meandering down a dark street in Vancouver (I’m here for a conference), taking in the old streets where we used to live and work and worship, smelling the smells of spring, enjoying the sounds of the city, when I hear footsteps behind me. I turn and see a young man approaching me. I begin to walk a bit faster but I hear his pace quicken. I turn around again, all kinds of scenarios beginning to nervously take shape in my mind. I ponder increasing my speed again, but all of a sudden he blurts out, “Are you staying at the ____ house?” “Um, yeah,” I say, hesitantly. “Come with me,” he exclaims with a wide smile. “I’ll show you the way.”
Turns out my hosts for the week have a young German volunteer staying with them for a year. I think they told me this at some point, but I evidently forgot. I was expecting to arrive at an empty house (they are out of town for one more day) and settle in for a quiet evening alone, but before I knew it I was at a table full of snacks and drinks and engaged in a lively conversation that ranged from the intricacies of German football and the relegation system that his favourite team (Hamburg) is currently facing to the miseries of a wet Vancouver winter to speaking in tongues to Canaanites.
We had talked about bible interpretation and how pastors abuse authority and about how young people don’t always admire the church where he comes from. We had talked about worship wars and prophecy and the gifts of the Spirit. We had talked about conservative and charismatic and liberal churches. And then, out of the blue, he says to me, “You know what I just can’t understand? The Canaanites. I’ve been trying to read the Old Testament lately, and I just don’t get it. How could God command all the Canaanites to be slaughtered? What about all those women and children? They didn’t do anything wrong. How could God do that? Why would God ever want that? It doesn’t make any sense to me.” I nodded, my eyes growing heavy with a day of travel. “It doesn’t make sense to me either.”
We sat there for a minute, the two of us, complete strangers to one another not ninety minutes earlier, and thought about this strange God that we had cast our lot with. Then we moved on to talk about love and about Jesus and about trying to work through the things that annoy and confuse us about the Bible alongside the things that we do understand, the things that give us life and peace and hope. “I guess it’s good that we can’t know everything we want,” he said as we were retiring for the night. “It keeps us humble.” “Yeah,” I reply, “I guess it is.”
I am glad that my new German friend was not a thug intent on doing me harm as I wandered around these familiar unfamiliar streets in this city I once called home. I am even more glad for these unexpected conversations that sometimes spring up, where we can share little parts of our lives with all kinds of people, where we can probe things that matter, deep things, things that confuse and unsettle us, things that make us happy, reasons for hope and for trust.
And now, I am glad for a warm bed in a quiet house, as my head hits the pillow, thinking about the Canaanites.