The issue of immigration has been turned into a political meme. Refugees flee from Syria and other nations in the wake of violence. There are some who treat the plight of the refugee and immigrant, however, as a blight to be extinguished. What does the Bible have to tell us about these issues? A great deal. Here I will briefly draw out a few ways the Bible discusses these topics.
All Humans Share Equal Dignity
The Bible makes it extremely clear that all humans share the image of God (Genesis 2), and that the divisions we make of nation and race have no place in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).
The Sojourner in Your Land
The Old Testament has much to say regarding sojourners or exiles. There is no comment about the legality of the sojourner or exile, but rather the focus is on the plight of those who flee from their own lands.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)
The argument might be made that these are specific commands to a specific people: the Israelites. After all, we read the reasoning: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. We were never in Egypt! we might cry. The teaching, however, seems to be binding and universal.To point out that the latter part does not apply to Christians is like the teachers of the Law saying they were slaves to no one, despite being Abraham’s descendants (John 8:33).
Moreover, when we consider a verse like Exodus 22:21- ““You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (ESV), we note that the reasoning provided is not necessary for the command. You shall not wrong or oppress a sojourner; next clause: here’s a reason why. But the command itself stands whether or not the reason given directly applies to us or not. Of course, even if you don’t buy into this reasoning, there are plenty of verses that simply command us to care for the sojourner.
Malachi 3:5 states “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”
God issues dire warnings “against those who thrust aside the sojourner.”
The letter to the Hebrews applies this from a New Testament perspective: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (13:2).
Commands to help the needy and poor are found throughout Scripture, such as in Proverbs: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (31:8-9)
It would be difficult to discount that “illegal immigrants” are often among the poor and needy, or that refugees could not be counted among that number.
Hope for all nations is preached throughout the Bible, calling people from all directions to God.
An Eschatological Perspective
Christians are told by Peter that we are all exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are in this world, and not of it. Such verses speaking of the nature of Christians as exiles on earth tie the thread, and bring us full circle. The reasoning that applied to the Israelites because they were sojourners in Egypt applies to us, because we are sojourners on Earth. Care for the poor and needy, do not turn aside the sojourner, for we are exiles as they are.
Christians have no wiggle room: the plight of the sojourner, the refugee, and/or the exile are not to be ignored. We are to care for them as we would be cared for. How exactly does this play out in a practical fashion? That is up for some debate. However, any perspective cannot be called Christian which ignores the Bible’s clear teaching and command to care for others.
It is also clear that there is nowhere in the Bible where provisions are made for some of the arguments commonly used in the political sphere. For example, there is no exception stating that if people do not want to pay higher taxes, they are allowed to turn aside the sojourner. Neither does it prescribe a specific system for providing assistance, or say that a specific form of government should be established to do so. One thing that is excluded explicitly would be any demeaning of others made in the image of God. One thing that is required is that we do care for those in need.
We are called to help the sojourner. Whether that is the refugee from Syria, the young neighbor boy who ran away from an abusive home, or an “illegal” seeking to escape from systemic poverty: no exceptions are made. We as Christians should remember that we, too, are exiles seeking scraps from the Master’s table.
Grace and peace.
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