During the second half of the Obama administration and leading up to and through much of the Trump administration, immigrants were much in the news. The country was divided over how immigrants should be handled: whether we should build a wall and be more restrictive at the borders; how strictly we should enforce the laws; whether the laws should be changed; whether immigrants from certain countries should be restricted or prohibited; and so on.
Much of the public “discussion” was inflamed with political rhetoric. The tone was angry on both “sides”. It seemed that most people were talking past each other. People took extreme positions. The issues were couched in all or nothing language, as if the choices were to open the borders wide or shut them down completely.
As I talked with people privately on both “sides”, though, the tenor and tone was different. I didn’t speak with anyone who advocated open borders with no security or regulations. I didn’t speak with anyone who wanted to close the borders and keep everyone out. Most people really fell in the middle; it was the inflamed rhetoric that created the appearance that people were amassed at the polar extremes, like angry mobs with pitchforks in their hands.
The heat of the immigration discussion has died down, but the issues haven’t gone away. President Biden has undone most or all of the executive orders issued by President Trump to tighten up border security and other immigration controls, but the laws haven’t changed.
We can expect less and enforcement and efforts to , but the laws haven’t changed. The issues haven’t been resolved. Our immigration system is still not very workable, and issues are bound to boil to the surface again and demand attention.
I first seriously dug into the “issue” of immigration in the Obama administration. I was buffeted by the opposing winds of the political rhetoric, but I wanted to know how Christians should view immigration… if there was a definitive Christian position to be taken. Most Christians knew were well-versed in the political rhetoric, but I wasn’t hearing a biblically focused critique of the subject.
The Syrian refugee crisis was flooding the news and my conscience. I had to confess that I didn’t know where God stood. I didn’t know what the Bible said on immigration, if anything. I wanted to step back from the political fray and do my own searching of Scripture and meditation to let God speak to me on the issue.
I spent a weekend searching the Scriptures. I discovered that the Bible has much to say on the subject. The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and those terms permeated everything from start to finish.
I found that Scripture speaks very clearly and directly on subject and left me little room to wonder how we ought to respond to immigration issues in our current day. I wrote about it for the first time in November 12, 2014 in the article, Immigration: the Strangers Among Us.
God’s “view” of immigrants is closely aligned with how God relationship with Abraham and his descendants. We might forget that told Abraham his descendants “would be foreigners in a strange land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”. (Gen. 15:13; and Acts 7:6) Thus, Abraham’s faith prompted him to live “like a stranger in a foreign country” (as did Isaac and Jacob) (Heb. 11:9)
“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
In fact, this status of being an alien and a stranger on the earth applies to all people of faith in the past:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
The status of God’s people as aliens and strangers was built into the very fabric of the their relationship with God and emphasized by centuries of living with that status.
We tend to focus on them entering into the Promised Land, driving out and displacing the previous inhabitants and setting up the kingdom of Israel. Consider, however, God’s instructions to them before they set foot in the Promised Land:
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of Lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 ESV
God says He “loves the sojourner”. God instructs Moses and the people, also, to “love the sojourner”, and God reminds them they were sojourners for centuries!
I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that God reminded them of their status. Human nature is such that we we easily “forget” our own experiences of difficulty after we have reached a degree of comfort and prosperity and fail to empathize with people who have not reached our level of comfort and prosperity.
We tend to take more credit for our good circumstances than we ought to. Thus, God reminded the Israelites, over and over again, that God brought them out of Egypt. God gave them the Promised Land and drove out the inhabitants before them. This was nothing they did on their own.
Today, we might be tempted to think that out ancestors entered the country the “right” way, forgetting that there were few rules to prevent people from entering the country for most of our history. People just showed up, and we received them. Our current immigration laws are some of the strictest and the regulations more difficult to navigate than most of years gone by.
Of course, the law is the law, right?
As Christians, we should be law-abiding citizens.
We should also strive to have just laws to the extent that it lies within our power or influence. God loves justice, and He hates injustice. (Isaiah 10:1) The definition of justice and righteousness is established by God, and God says,
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Thus, in God’s economy, the stranger and sojourner among us have special stature. We should treat them well if we are going to do justice as God defines it.
As people of faith, we inherit the same faith as the people listed in Hebrews 11. They lived as foreigners and strangers on earth, and so should we. Thus, Peter says we are aliens and strangers in this world. (1 Peter 2:11)
If our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), we are thereby aliens and strangers in this world. We can’t be both. We can’t live with one foot in the world and one foot in God’s kingdom. It’s an all or nothing deal.
Like the Israelites, then, our identity and status as aliens and strangers in the world should lead us to love the aliens and strangers of the world. It’s an extension of who we are. It’s in God very nature to love the sojourner and for us to love them, also, as God loves us.
I know many Christians, still, who stumble over the law in regard to immigration. If that describes you, consider this:
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
A sinner is, literally, a law breaker – a breaker of God’s Law. We could rephrase Paul’s statement to say,
“While we were still illegals, Christ died for us.”
In fact, we weren’t just law breakers, we were aliens and strangers to God. Thus, we could rephrase against to say,
“While we were still illegal aliens, Christ died for us!”
When we are born again and become children of God, Paul says we are “no longer strangers and aliens”, but “fellow citizens” in the kingdom of God with all the saints. (Eph. 2:19) Our status changes (making us aliens and strangers in the world).
This didn’t happen because of our good works. It didn’t happen because we lived the right way. God didn’t require us to come into His kingdom legally – we wouldn’t make it!
We were lawbreakers. We were alienated from God. We were enemies to God, but God left his own comfort and position. He came to us and died for us despite our illegal status. He paid the price for our admission to His kingdom and welcomes us in.
We are saved by grace. We didn’t earn it. Should we hold he strangers who come to us to a different standard?
No doubt, we are to respect authority or pay the consequence. Never mind that sometimes laws are unjust. We pay the consequences for violating them. Peter and Paul knew that well, as they were both killed, ultimately, for refusing to stop preaching the Gospel when governing authorities prohibited them.
Scripture doesn’t say we will escape the consequences, but Scripture also gives us authorization and instruction to ignore laws that prohibit what God has told us to do. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrates how that looks in action. Scripture also gives us authority and the impetus to work on changing unjust laws.
Most of us may not have the challenge or even the opportunity to live out God’s instruction on how we should view and treat strangers very often, except for what we say to others in our private lives and on social media. Details aside, what should our attitude and the thrust of our dialogue be?
Clearly, our dialogue should demonstrate love for immigrants, just as God loves them. We are immigrants in this world too – just passing through. How God might have you do that is between you and Him.
At a minimum, our own relationship to God should inform what we say and do. We were once illegal aliens to God, but He welcomed us into His kingdom. Just as God instructed the people of Israel to care for strangers because they were strangers in Egypt, we should care for strangers because we are strangers in this world.