Looking at Both Sides of the Wall

Walls can provide peace and security, but they can also be used to oppress and to prevent us from accomplishing God’s purposes.

Ancient city walls and modern buildings in Istanbul, Turkey

Wayne Gruden, a Christian ethicist, makes a case for building a wall. He cites to biblical passages that reinforce the idea that walls provide protection, peace and security to those inside the walls. These are good things, he says, and he cites to support for this proposition in the Scriptures.

The Psalmist prays (for Jerusalem) for “peace within your walls and security within your towers” (Psalm 122:7) and praises God for strengthening the bars of Jerusalem’s gates, making peace within its borders. (Psalm 147:12-14) David prayed to God to build up the walls of Jerusalem. (Psalm 51:18) King David built walls around Jerusalem, and King Solomon strengthened those walls after him. (1 Kings 3:1)

God used the Babylonians to visit judgment on the people of Israel by breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and burning down the temple and the palaces. (2 Chronicles 36:19. See also Jeremiah 52:14) The first thing the remnant did when they returned to Jerusalem was to rebuild the wall. (Nehemiah 2:17)

Indeed, walls and gates and towers are all pictures that convey the peace and security that the ancients hoped and prayed for from God. These symbols stand for the peace and protection for which ancient people longed in the harsh world of their time.

Proverbs says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28) Thus, walls around cities are symbols of self-control and self-defense.

Certainly, building walls in a hostile world is a prudent thing to do. On different levels, we do this (provide peace and security) for our families, our communities and our nations. Basic decency demands it. Therefore, Wayne Grudem concludes that “the Bible views border walls as a morally good thing”.

I agree with him, but that isn’t necessarily the end of the story. Like many things, walls can be good, and they can be bad. Few people, for instance, believe the Berlin Wall was a morally good thing. Whether building a wall is a morally good or appropriate thing depends on the circumstances and the purposes for which it is built.

Moral goodness can’t be determined in a vacuum. Morality, or righteousness and justice, to use more biblical terms, is a matter of relationship with God and other people. The determination of what is righteous and just begins with a determination of God what God desires and purposes We must have to apply what we know about God’s heart for righteousness and justice in a given situation by considering specific circumstances in light of the big picture.

Walls are not good or evil in themselves. They can protect and maintain peace and security for the people within the walls. They were a critical and necessary component of safe community in most centuries gone by. People who were not protected by walls were exposed to the vagaries of every vagabond with bad intent.

But walls that are designed to keep people captive to an oppressive regime are not good. Walls that were necessary and appropriate for the safety and security of people in ancient times may not be as necessary of appropriate in modern times.

Walls can be used to provide peace and security, but they can also be used for evil purposes like oppression. The issue isn’t walls, but purpose and intent. For Christians that means God’s ultimate purposes and intent.

Christians should be motivated chiefly by God’s commands and God’s heart. God does desire to provide peace and security for people, but sometimes His ultimate and greater purposes mean the temporary suspension or sacrifice of lesser things.

This is the principle that led Jesus to lay down his earthly life so that He could provide eternal life sinful people. Jesus calls us to do the same (picking up our crosses to follow Him). By the same principle, Jesus commanded His followers to forgo peace and security for the greater purpose of the great commission. I contend that should follow Jesus on the issue of immigration.

We have a natural desire to protect what we have. I’m afraid that our present desire to build a wall to keep people out may be motivated more by a desire to protect our comfortable way of life than a motivation to follow after God’s heart.

I am not saying that anyone who believes we should build a wall is evil or even selfish in that desire. There are genuine concerns about security and a need to protect the people of this country from people with bad intent. We should be prudent and protective of the safety of the people of this country, but not at the expense of God’s greater purposes.

We shouldn’t forget that God has higher and greater purposes than our security. If we sacrifice God’s ultimate purposes for our desire for peace and security, we are missing the mark. We need to consider what is an appropriate Christian response to immigration, not a political response or a philosophical response, but a biblically informed response in light of God’s ultimate purposes.

The early disciples are a good example to consider. While the disciples hunkered down in Jerusalem behind the walls of their private abodes, God visited them by His Holy Spirit and led them out into the streets to share the Gospel. The combination of the Holy Spirit’s leading and the persecution that followed scattered them from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas in Judea and beyond.

A motivation to keep the fledgling church safe might have led them to remain behind the walls of their of their own homes, but the greater purpose for which Jesus came and died may never have been fulfilled. The Gospel would not likely have spread as it did without the risk they took and the persecution that followed.

God desires above all things to accomplish His purposes in the world. We should always be mindful of God’s higher purposes as a matter of first priority.

When Wayne Grudem points to the passage in Revelation in which “the great city”, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven having “a great, high wall” (Rev. 21:12), he rightfully admits that wall might be symbolic. The wall signifies God’s ultimate protection, peace and security. His ultimate desire is to provide us that peace and security in Him for eternity. I doubt He needs a literal wall to accomplish that.

Meanwhile, we live in the world, and the field is ripe for the harvest. (John 4:27-42) We live in a country that is prosperous and relatively safe and secure, compared to the rest of the world. Many people, like our ancestors before us, desire to come here for the hope and security our country provides so they can make a better life for our families.

Immigration brings the field of people to us! Immigration makes it easier for us to fulfill the Great Commission.

Most immigrants, like our forefathers, simply desire a better life. They are hard-working, family people. Most of them are not terrorists or criminals.

Immigration isn’t a zero sum gained proposition. We need more workers to take on jobs that native Americans don’t want to do. We need help to support the Social Security and Medicare systems that we have paid into that may collapse under the weight of our aging society if the workforce is not replenished.

While there is some support for the proposition that walls can be a good thing, a morally right thing, as evidenced in Scripture, walls are only as righteous as the purpose and intent is for them. We need security to protect the safety of the people in this country, but Scripture reveals that God’s higher purpose includes a particular concern for aliens and strangers.

This isn’t necessarily an either/or proposition. We can build walls and tighter security while finding ways to be more generous toward the people who knock on our doors for help.

In the end, however, I see no evidence in Scripture that we will be judged by how high and secure our walls are, but I do evidence that God will judge us on how the degree to which we offered help to the aliens and strangers who come to us for help. Our “neighbors” are both our fellow countryman who may be protected by a wall and the immigrants who come to our borders to escape poverty and oppression and to seek a better life.

In the end, we can do both. We can protect the peace and security of the people of our nation and generously welcoming immigrants, people like our own ancestors, at the same time.

Most importantly, we need to be sensitive to God’s heart in the matter. If we are to take the parable of the sheep and the goats seriously, I dare say that we should err on the side of welcoming the strangers in. (Matthew 25:31-46) We should find ways to let the strangers in without unduly sacrificing security of those who are here lest we find ourselves on the wrong side of the ultimate wall that will separate those who followed from those who didn’t.

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