Aliens, Immigration, and the Scriptures June 23 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Immigration has become a worldwide topic of vigorous discussion and debate. And no matter where you are in the world, people take different sides. On one hand, there is a lot to be said about living in a country to which people want to migrate. Those who live in a county that many people want to leave are probably going through great difficulty. In other words, having an immigration problem is a lot better than having an emigration problem. That said, one of the tasks of government in the 21st century is to manage the flow of people into and out of the country for which they are responsible. And this is no easy task.

I didn’t really want to write this particular blog. People are quite passionate about immigration and it never ceases to be a divisive topic, not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well. It was safer to steer clear and tackle an easier subject. But it is a topic we cannot avoid, particularly when the Scriptures provide some important truths that can guide how the Christian community can respond; and I’m not talking about a political response. As we’ve said many times, this is not a political blog.

We can learn a great deal by observing what Jesus did about governmental issues like this. One of the things we find is that His focus was on relationships, not the politics. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that He was all about interacting with people: helping them, teaching them, admonishing them (e.g. the Pharisees), encouraging them, and giving them hope, even while a harsh governmental regime was in place at the time. While the politics swirled around Him, He kept His focus on the mission – the people for whom He was to be the Light of the World.

It is easy to get caught up in the political debate and overlook what the living and active Word of God has to say. So step back from the news cycle for a moment, take a deep breath, and let’s find out what the Potter has to say to the clay (that would be us).

A good example of Jesus’ focus on relationships over politics is His encounter with the woman He met at Jacob’s well, the “woman of Samaria” (John 4:7-38). It was not politically correct of Jesus to be traveling through Samaria, the land of the “impure” Jews who had intermarried over the years with non-Jews. Not only this, but He was talking with a woman. We see this propensity toward discrimination from the commentary in verse 9 (“for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”), and by comments the disciples made when they got back from buying food because “they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27).

But here He is, having an extended conversation with the woman – her background, her relationships, her understanding of worship. Then Jesus caps off this encounter with verse 35, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” In that one encounter, Jesus had demonstrated to the disciples how they should care about so-called second-class citizens, by reaching out to someone who was not only a Samaritan and a woman, but one who had a dark past. And we see the result in verse 39 that “many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.”

There are quite a number of references to aliens in the Bible, also variously translated sojourner, stranger, foreigner, and immigrant. And we can see in these references several aspects of the immigration issue. On one hand, governments have been put in place for the purpose of restraining evil, or as we are commanded in I Peter 2:13-14 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Romans 13:1-7 is the classic passage on the authority given to human government. “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil” (verse 3). Many countries have established orderly processes to maintain the rule of law, including the process of immigration, asylum, and citizenship. Shashi and her family migrated to the U.S. in 1959 under a very orderly process, without which, my life and the lives of our children and grandchildren would have been very different! So I am thankful for how that worked.

It is interesting that aliens in the Scriptures are often referenced as needing protection, right alongside widows and orphans. For example, we see in Malachi 3:5: “’I will be a swift witness … against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Deuteronomy has several references to treatment of the alien:

  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
  • Deuteronomy 23:7 – “you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.” It’s interesting that they were to honor Egyptians, despite how the Hebrews had been mistreated, at least during the latter part of their stay there.
  • Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.”
  • Deuteronomy 24:17 – “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge.”

To be sure, there are many evil people out there attempting to exploit the situation for their own purposes, and these need to be dealt with. But there are also many who are enduring horrific persecution in their home country. We have witnessed that among Christian communities in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Many countries have processes set up for asylum seekers. While the government is responsible for managing the flow of people into and out of the country, once accepted into the country (either temporarily or permanently), we are to treat them with love and respect.

Matthew 25:35 carries with it the same idea, where Jesus is contrasting the righteous and the unrighteous: “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in” … and verse 40: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Over the last 44 years, BCF has been blessed with many families and individuals who have demonstrated this kind of love by hosting students who have come for BCF courses. These have been people from all walks of life: from Africa, South America, central and eastern Asia, western Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and throughout North America. The hospitality has been generous and the friendships often long-lasting.

Shashi’s family and their Christian friends in the U.S. were great examples of extending hospitality to international students. They did not have to travel overseas for this mission field; the mission field came to them. And it is with that spirit of hospitality that so many of the aliens and strangers have come to know Jesus Christ. What you cannot talk about in many of their home countries you can talk about here. We have several in our church who have consistently reached out to internationals, and it is one of the great opportunities and blessings for both the hosts and those being hosted.

Yes, there are people out there who are trying to exploit the system. There are those out there who want to do harm. This is the government’s job to keep that under control. But it is our job to cultivate the relationships that the presence of aliens and strangers affords, to treat them with respect, and pray that they might find the One who graciously reached out to us through His Son. If it feels like we are in a foreign land on earth, that’s the way it should be, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …” (Philippians 3:20). So as the story turns out, we are the ultimate aliens, on earth for a time, but permanently citizens of heaven.

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Steve Smith