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. They stand for that very peace and protection for which they longed in the harsh world of the their time. Proverbs says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28) 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 I think he takes it too far. Few people, for instance, believe the Berlin Wall was a morally good thing. We also can’t view the moral goodness of providing peace and security in a vacuum. We need to consider the big picture, too.

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 life 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 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 to all of us. By the same principle, Jesus commanded His followers to forgo peace and security for the greater purpose of the great commission. Should we not 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 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 safe behind the walls of their of their own homes, but the purpose for which Jesus came and died may never have been truly 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, and we should always be mindful of God’s higher purposes.

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. If we are failing in our call to fulfill the great commission, immigration brings the people to us!

Many of those people, like our forefathers, simply desire a better life. They are hard-working, family people. Most of them are not terrorists or criminals. 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. If we are going to build a wall, we need to find a more generous way to accommodate the people who knock on our doors for help.

In fact, we may be judged, not by how high and secure our walls are, but by how we were willing to help the aliens and strangers who come to us for help. It’s the difference between sheep and goats. A wall helps us to love the neighbors in our own country, but what about our neighbors on the other side of the wall?

In the end, protecting the peace and security of the people of our nation and generously welcoming immigrants, people like our own ancestors, isn’t an either/or proposition. We can do both. 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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