All of us involved with Redeeming Culture were devastated by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, and Yola. We wish a God’s healing to all the wounded, God’s peace beyond understanding to the families of the victims, and God’s justice to those who perpetrated these acts.
• • •
Last Friday’s horrible attacks in Paris left 129 dead, 433 wounded, and an entire world in mourning for the romantic city. Five days later, we still don’t have the whole picture of what happened, but one thing is clear: terrorist organization ISIS is to blame, and they may have fraudulently used refugee passports to do so.
Since then, over half of the states in the USA have released statements officially opposing the resettlement of refugees within their borders, amid fears that another attack could be carried out on American soil.
But how should Christians respond to those who seek asylum?
God has a special heart for exiles
No country on this planet is perfect. No, not even the one you live in.
This is a fallen world, and the countries in it are run by fallen people with twisted hearts and evil minds; people who insist upon pushing their own agenda at the expense of others, forcing people to leave their homes, and making it painful for them to stay in their land. Which, of course, means that there will always be exiles.
The good news is, God has a special heart for exiles.
In the Bible, the nation of Israel is almost always homeless in some way. They wandered the Earth as a large family before seeking sanctuary from a famine in Egypt; where, sadly, they were made slaves of the Pharaoh. After escaping from their exile and bondage in Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for decades before they finally reached the Promised Land – only to be exiled again to Babylon a few centuries later. They’re returned to their home by the time the Old Testament ends, but when the story of the Bible picks up again in the time of Jesus, they’ve been conquered yet again, this time by Rome. To this day, Israel is in a state of eternal dispute, her historical capital of Jerusalem claimed and occupied by Muslims.
This wasn’t an arbitrary thing, though. Israel was not merely being kicked over and over. They were sinning, and their captivity is a reminder that turning to other gods has consequences.
Yet even though their captivity was discipline for following other gods and turning against the Lord, God cared deeply for Israel amidst their exile. He protected them from death and destruction, gave them food when they were hungry, and turned away the hands of their captors when they were endangering His nation. He even returned them to their homes, over and over again, despite His perfect knowledge that they would sin again. As God had promised in His covenant, when they called to Him in need, He answered with love and compassion.
Turning away from need is deadly
When Jesus ascended into heaven, He passed that task off to us – the Church. We, like God before us, are responsible to care for those in need, love the exile, bind up the captive, and heal the sick. Put quite simply, those who seek our help are perhaps the greatest priority God has set before the church. Though you and I are individually commanded that nothing is to come before seeking our joy in Christ, He has commanded the church – the gathered body of all believers – to care for others above all else.
Not long before Jesus’ arrest, He describes a scene to the disciples which is simultaneously thrilling and chilling: in the last judgment, God will line people up on both sides of Him. And the ones on the left will be sent away to hell. Why?
‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:42-46 ESV, emphasis added)
It’s not merely a request or a command, but an edict that carries with it life-and-death penalties: care for those who need your help, or take your place on God’s left side.
Of course, we have no capability to do this on our own; that’s why, when Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit, who enables and empowers us to do it.
Clearly God intends for the Church to be about the work of helping those who are hurting. John reminds us that the love of God is not in us if we have the means to help but don’t. James reminds us that faith without works is a dead faith; ineffective, unhelpful, useless. If, in the end, we find ourselves at the left hand of God with our loveless hearts and dead, corpselike faith, we know why it has happened: because we have failed in God’s call to the church.
We have the means and command; we must help and care for those who need it. We must be an aid to the exile.
And not just because it’s the right thing to do.
We are all refugees
You were born into a great flight. You weren’t expelled from the Garden at the beginning of time, but you’re on the run just the same. Because of the sin nature you inherited, you cannot return to your country of origin. Your sin has separated you from your God and your true country, and your true city: a bright, beautiful City of Light. You, like everyone else in the world, are a refugee.
Peter describes us as “sojourners;” the writer of Hebrews says we’re exiles. And in the Psalms, David describes seeking refuge in God over and over and over and over again. We need refuge, quite simply, because we are under attack.
Your sin would see you dead. Its goal is to wipe you out. But God had compassion on you, and sent His son to ensure your safety. And because of His son, we can one day return to that City; our true home.
In the face of our own rescue, how can Christians refuse to take in other refugees? You may say, “but it is dangerous!” To which God insists,
[When you choose] to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
(Isaiah 58:7-8, ESV, emphasis added)
We cannot ignore God’s heart for the exile, nor the command to be His hands; for God has been mighty toward us, His refugees.
In this moment, the heart of the Lord is broken for the broken Parisian families who will sleep tonight without their loved one, for the sixth time. But He weeps just as strongly for the Syrian refugees who were uprooted from their homes, plunged into exile, and are now frantically seeking a place to live. His heart breaks for them, and so He has empowered and commanded us to take them in. If you are in a nation or state that can take them in but isn’t, urge your leaders to change their minds, and remind them that God’s heart cares strongly for the exiles.
We cannot leave these people out in the cold.
• • •
Thank you for reading Redeeming Culture. I apologize for being so political in this piece; in general, we try to avoid politics for their divisive nature. However, in this case, the Bible seems to clearly say that we must act. If you feel strongly that you would like to do more to help Syrian refugees, you can donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency or seek out volunteer opportunities in your area. And please remember to pray for the city of Paris, the exiles of Syria, the victims of ISIS and Boko Haram, and this fallen world, because only Christ can make things better.
The more I read of your post, the more I found myself teary eyed. Conviction. It has taken days, but God is replacing my fear with the undeniable command to love as He has loved, is loving, and will always love us. Just minutes before I read this, I posted John 15:12 – “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” I immediately notice, there are no exceptions. God has promised that perfect love casts out fear. I’ve seen video of Muslims stating their intent is to come into a country and have so many children they overwhelm the current residents. That is frightening! So is Sharia Law, beheading and all other things these extremists want to bring with them. What can I do but trust God, He is in control of everything whether I worry about it or not.
So here I am, trying to trust. Oh, help me Father.
Well written David. Thanks for tackling this very difficult issue.
Other verses to consider:
Leviticus 19:9-10, 33-34