The news out of Paris over the weekend was horrifying. Deliberate and brutal killing of innocents by terrorists is something that will never make sense to me. I can’t get my head around it.
One of the results is that fear of refugees, particularly those from Syria, is growing. The fact that one of the people suspected of being involved with the mayhem in Paris apparently entered Europe as a refugee is giving American governors pause.
What is the correct response?
Roughly half of Syria’s population, 11 million of 22 million, have felt the need to leave their homes due to civil war over the last four years. That’s an awful lot of displaced people to find homes for, and the United States takes just a tiny percentage. (Read a story of one Syrian refugee here.)
My instincts tell me that America should not be fearful of Syrians, but instead should offer them assistance. Of course, due diligence is required and reasonable. According to World Relief of the 800,000 refugees resettled in the United States since September 11, 2001, only three have been arrested for participating in terrorist activity and they were picked up before any harm was done. I find it amazing, and evidence of God’s mercy, that the screening has been so successful.
But that’s just my reaction to the situation. For a more authoritative response, let’s find out what the Bible says.
The Old Testament begins with the story of God’s people as aliens in foreign lands. Abraham was told by God to leave his home, which he did, and he was promised the land of Canaan, however he never owned more land than the burial plot for his wife Sarah. Isaac didn’t do much better. Jacob lived for 20 years in the home of his father in law, Laban, then he too wandered in the land of Canaan. Eventually, Joseph was sold to Egyptians, and became second only to Pharaoh making way for the whole family to go to Egypt. And that’s just Genesis.
When God gave them the Law, 400 or so years later, it is clear that God had protective feelings about aliens, foreigners. “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
There is quite a lot of difficult violence in the Old Testament. God gave the Israelites control of their promised land, Canaan, by defeating the nations who lived there. Israel, huge by this point, was a force in Canaan, but their Law hadn’t changed. They were still to take care not to oppress a foreigner who lived among them.
I imagine that Muslim terrorists think that they are fighting against godless infidels, Christians, other non-Muslims and disobedient Muslims, like Israel was 3500 years ago.
That isn’t the way God calls his followers to live. Jesus, himself a refugee, modeled a life of mercy, of welcoming everyone, and of compassion. Instead of killing others for their sins, he took the sins of the world to the cross and paid for them with his death. Jesus did not live a life devoted to self-protection. He lived a life of service and sacrifice.
If you, like me, are a Christian, then you are called to follow Jesus. That means that we should behave mercifully, compassionately, not with self-protection as our first priority. Yes, we might pay a price for that behavior. Christians may suffer.
Terrorism isn’t going anywhere. I’m an idealist, I admit, but the best way I can think of to lessen the reach of terrorism is to screen very carefully and then welcome Muslims into this country. Maybe they will meet Jesus, and He makes all the difference.
What do you think? Do you agree with the governors who have said they will not accept Syrian refugees? Any thoughts on what the Bible says about refugees?
This is such a complicated issue! A caution that I have been considering is to resist the urge to pit prudence and compassion against each other. It seems that people are landing on one side or the other, and my question would be whether or not it is possible to have both. As I think about the story of the Good Samaritan, we see here, that he did not bring the traveler to his own home, but rather took him to an inn and paid for his expenses. Obviously you could come up with many logistical reasons for this, and my point is that there may be several options for providing compassionate care. Thinking through the long-term ramifications of any particular decision is the job of a good leader, not just considering the short-term solutions to a problem. Additionally, I do think that the response of the individual believer is a different calling than the response of a government. As a parent will make decisions that prioritize his or her responsibility to protect his or her children, so the government has protection as a God-given responsibility. Even though one might be compassionate toward the homeless, one would need to consider carefully the potential risks of bringing a group of homeless men into one’s home to spend the weekend, when having young children in one’s care. It does not mean that one would absolutely never do such a thing, but the risks must be calculated and precautions must be made to protect one’s children.
As I think about the individual Christian response, I must ask myself, “What have I done to help these people? Have I donated my resources? Have I done what I can?” It is much more convicting and humbling to consider the answers to these questions.
Excellent thoughts, Liz. I’ve also been thinking about the difference between the actions of our leaders and of individuals, and like you I realize that our objectives may appropriately be different. “Have I done what I can?” is probably the best question any of us can ask ourselves.
I have wrestled with this for this past week. I do believe that we should turn first to the Bible where God tells us hundreds of times to “fear not.”
The politicians who jump up and fearmonger, get the faithful stirred up are merely causing dissension which is also frowned upon in the Bible.
Politics are how society deals with human conflict and when they use it to create more conflict, we should be wary.
I will never lose the image in my mind of the toddler washed up on shore, his little shoes still on his little feet. I can’t let my fear cause more of that. All I can think of is if that were my grandson.
I was surprised that for the first time, Congress passed a veto proof piece of legislation. I hope we do due diligence but we can’t prevent everything. When Diane Feinstein said this kept her awake at night, that got my attention. I hope we do not over correct for I do believe our flag still means something.
Beyond the refugee crisis, I hope our leaders create a policy that stops creating more refugees.
Thanks for your thoughtful post.
There is no doubt this is a tough one to wrestle with. It’s easy to read “fear not” and say that we should all follow those two easy words, but at a time like this it’s a little more difficult to act accordingly. Fear is a dangerous thing, and it’s disturbing to me that so many of our politicians seem to be acting in fear. Thanks for your thoughts KJ!
I really don’t have good answers right now. It’s easy to look at the words of Jesus and then think they should apply to our nation as a whole, rather than to individuals. Yet, if that were true, there would be examples of Israel turning the other cheek when it was attacked in the Old Testament, but that didn’t happen.
So, I believe that we (cities, states, and nation) should do what Joshua and Israel did when they were defeated at Ai: fast and pray to hear His voice about the immigrants.
You bring up an interesting point Larry. The Law about not mistreating or oppressing foreigners was in effect during the days when Israel was fighting. So, Israel could have been fighting a foreign nation while individuals from that nation came to be among them, traveling with Israel. In that case the nation of Israel was following God’s plan for the nation while each individual was obeying God’s law. Today, I would guess that we individuals are called to be kind to all those who live among us, wherever they are from, and it’s the nation’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens. Prayer for our leaders is more important than ever. Thanks for reminding me of that, Larry.
My eyes were opened to my own self-protection issue this week. A significant crime happened close to my daughters college campus. The parent’s Facebook page went crazy with all of the fear expressed and demands made for more information and more protection. The crime was not on campus, and was between two people who had their own isolated issues with each other. But I must say, my first instinct was “should I get her out of there?”
Then I thought about the pain and down-trodden nature of the folks in this economically depressed area. Could God use our kids as a light and a help in the community? Where is the appropriate and God honoring balance between wise care for ones well-being and reaching out to the hurting?
I guess we will all stumble and stagger and hopefully find ourselves in our appropriate roles. May we be individually attentive to the Lord’s leading in when to stay and when to go, and perceptive to know how to care for the hurting and “strangers” among us.
Thanks for your comment, Sue. It brings an issue like terrorism closer to home. I think you are right that the “appropriate and God honoring balance between wise care for ones well-being and reaching out to the hurting” is a tricky spot to find. Our culture has moved too far toward the “wise care,” or perhaps it has become “suffocating care.” I wonder if we as a society have forgotten how to be compassionate? Jesus’s lack of self-protection is at the same time risky and freeing. He trusted his Father to care for him until it was time for him to die. Quite an example!