The Naked God: Wrestling for a grace-ful humanity
Vincent Strudwick with Jane Shaw
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
MY HEADMASTER was very fond of the strange hymn “Come, O thou Traveller unknown”, whose climax caused us sixth-formers much giggling: “With thee all night I mean to stay, And wrestle till the break of day.” Way back then, wrestling with anyone all night, let alone unknown travellers, was strictly verboten.
Vincent Strudwick’s The Naked God celebrates sundry Jacobs who have had the nerve to wrestle with God throughout the ages. The book has an unusual and arresting genre, combining prophecy, autobiography, history, and theology, a treasury of fresh insights drawing on Geza Vermes, William Temple, C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, John Robinson, Meister Eckhart, and many more. It reminded me of John V. Taylor’s The Go-Between God and The Christlike God.
Fr Kelly of Kelham (which was Strudwick’s alma mater) is oft quoted: “God’s voice speaks so often in silence.” “You are never wholly wrong unless you think you are wholly right.” “I believe in one holy and energetic clergy!”
Other nuggets include John Robinson’s “God is existence.” William Temple, confessing that he is no more than “a petty usurer in a world manipulated by big usurers”, nevertheless desires that “worship should unlock the mystery of God in the world.” C. S. Lewis amplifies Temple’s Kingdom theology, where “a mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. In the transformation of lives, poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience as gradually as a tide lifts a grounded ship.”
All is inevitably topped by John V. Taylor’s “God is my hunger, my dread, my hope. He who is not I, awaits my coming home.”
Strudwick concludes that, though we are chiefly an unchurched society, a spiritual hunger nevertheless abides. He reimagines church as catalyst, transfiguring an egoistic society back to an altruistic one, celebrating a God who is as weak as water, but as irresistible as a river. Decisions should be taken at the lowest possible grass-roots level, dialogue superseding proclamation, and embodiment replacing autocracy.
Bonhoeffer permeates every bracing page: “We have to strip off the garments of Christianity — strip it bare so that we have the Naked God. And it is to that Naked God we pray, or rather who prays in us; for prayer is opening ourselves to the Presence.”
So that’s what my headmaster was trying to tell us — except that, of course, he would never have mentioned the word “naked”.
The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is the Assistant Bishop of Llandaff.