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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (6)

Hey, long time, no blog, eh?  I've been busy.  But it's time to bring this series to a close.  But that's for the next post, in which I suggest some ways that we might apply to our situation the Scriptures we've been looking at.

Today I want to look briefly at one other essential element to our immigration situation as the Bible sees it.  It isn't as long because unlike previous posts it isn't really about immigration.  It's about getting along with government in general.

When Judah was eliminated as a sovereign nation (rather, as a client-state of Babylon) and its people deported, this was the first time since the exodus that the people of God had to live in a godly way toward a state that wasn't its own and did not respect the true God even in theory.  Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah each depict this challenge one way or another.  What they all show is a manner of living that respects the ungodly government greatly, with total fidelity to its authority and laws, except when the government would compel Jews to disobey God directly.  Even when the Jews were threatened in some ways, the Jews would endeavor to get out of the jam through authorized, governmental means as far as they could.

The theological basis for this practical approach is described in Daniel's visions.  Two principles stand out.  First, no matter how wicked and unjust a government is, it is not to be defied except in obedience to God, because God is the one who put it there—"The Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes" (Dan. 4:32).  Therefore, to rebel against the state is to rebel against God.  Second, every government is transitory, because God's kingdom will put an end to them all.  So submission now, no matter how painful, is possible because it is temporary.  Life goes on for those who will inherit the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:27).

The Jewish diaspora mindset was carried on in exactly the same fashion by the early Christians.  Hopefully I don't need to demonstrate that the believers in Christ had hope that they were inheriting a permanent kingdom with Christ.  But the Christians also obeyed the idolatrous Roman government because they believed that God had established it.  The two most substantial passages that discuss this are Romans 13:1-7 ("Let every person be subject to the governing authorities . . . [f]or there is no authority except by God's appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God") and 1 Peter 2:13-17 ("Be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake"), but we can also see Jesus' comments about giving to Caesar what is Caesar's in this light.  Because the government is established by God, it is to be regarded as his messenger whether it does its job of doing justice or not.  So obeying the state is obeying God and disobeying the state is disobeying God unless the will of the state and the will of God directly conflict.

Indeed, the Bible frequently describes sin as "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4 is one of many examples).  There is a parallel between a life that neglects God's law and one that neglects the law of the state.  Dismissively blowing off one authority easily leads into blowing off another.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.  It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, godly, and upright lives in this present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good (Tit. 2:11-14).
It is because of God's severe concern about lawlessness that I am very concerned about disciples of Jesus Christ who are living in this country (or in any country) as illegal immigrants.  Of course the law applies to all people, Christian or not, but to a certain extent I expect unbelievers to break the law if it suits them because without Christ they are by nature lawless already.  But we Christians are called by God to obey him and to obey the authorities he has established, even if the laws they pass are unjust.  It is deeply disturbing that some would ignore this.  Surely God requires our civil disobedience if to comply is to disobey God.  But I fail to see how living in America illegally is that kind of situation.

In this blog series I, a native-born American, have strongly urged the native-born Americans who read me toward a position of compassion toward and solidarity with immigrants.  I sincerely hope that likewise immigrant pastors have strongly urged illegal congregants they may have to return to their home countries in compliance with the law.  I am somewhat concerned about the impact of illegal immigration on America, but I am very concerned about the impact of illegal immigration by Christians on their spiritual health and on the godly witness of the Church to the world.

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