10 Bible Truths That Should Influence What We Think About Syrian Refugees
Its hard to think clearly in a world dominated by dramatic images. It was just two months ago that a picture of Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who drowned trying to cross into Europe with his family, dramatically changed the tone and the substance of our conversation about refugees.
All of the sudden, we were outraged, we were horrified that these people we didn’t care about at all yesterday were being virtually ignored by our government. How could they be 10 minutes behind us in our self righteous concern for Aylan Kurdi and others like him trying to flee Islamic extremism in the Middle East? Pressure was placed on our politicians to outdo one another in promising expedited processes and unlimited resources in order to bring as many Aylan Kurdis as possible to our shores.
And then Paris happened and we saw new pictures.
We saw blood soaked concert halls, body bags and terrified teenage girls and now we are not so sure. Now we are posting pictures of Trojan Horses and sharing xenophobic rants by radical right wing politicians and telling our elected representatives to shut the doors, bar the gates, bomb the bad guys and bring our soldiers home.
Let’s hit the reset button. Let’s graciously admit that we are very visual, very visceral and very very confused. Let’s take a deep breath. Let’s pray and let’s ask God to help us think like Christians in very challenging times.
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what to think about the Syrian refugee crisis but it does say many things we need to remember before we start posting or pushing policy in the public square. As Christians we want to think and speak Biblically. Right now, in this moment we are in a battle of ideas and the outcome of this battle will have massive and eternal consequences for real people – flesh and blood; men, women and children. Christians are the salt of the earth. Christians are the light of the world. Therefore, Christians need to do some basic Bible orientation before shining their light and spreading their influence on this issue. Here are 10 Bible truths that should influence what we think about the Syrian refugee crisis.
10 Bible Truths That Should Influence What We Think About Syrian Refugees
1. Fear is the enemy of faith
You’ve probably heard before that “Fear not” is the most common commandment in the Bible. Its true. Fear is the opposite and enemy of Christian faith. Fear worries about me; faith is focused on believing God and serving one another. 1000 years ago Thomas Aquinas wrote:
“Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.” (ST II.II. q30, a2, ad2)
As a Christian – as a person saved by the life and death of Jesus Christ; as a person whose eternal inheritance is kept safe forever in the heavens – YOU NEED NOT FEAR. Your Father is in heaven and he knows your weakness and your need.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29–31 ESV)
You will never die in an accident. Your death will never be a mistake. Your death will come on the day and in the way your Father determines. Therefore, what have you to fear? You should not fear terrorists hiding among refugees – though they may in fact be there – you have been told to fear something far worse than that:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 ESV)
Christians are concerned with way bigger things. Eternal things. Kingdom of God type things. No terrorist can take this from me type of things. Let’s remember that as we address this refugee crisis.
2. God is Sovereign over everything
Its hard to deny that God is ultimately Sovereign over everything that happens on planet earth.
‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV)
Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (Amos 3:6 ESV)
The Bible teaches that human beings are morally responsible; they make real decisions for which they are finally held to account. And yet. Nothing happens that does not ultimately serve God’s plan and that includes terrorist attacks and the mass movements of people.
ISIS is not the first fanatical army of brutal terrorists to come out of the Middle East – not by a long shot. The Assyrians were the original Middle Eastern terrorists and they were known for using all manner of atrocity to overwhelm and paralyze here enemies. They ripped open the wombs of pregnant mothers and they bashed babies against the city walls. They did it – specifically – to terrorize surrounding peoples into submission. Sound familiar? And yet the movements of these people are portrayed as under the Sovereign Superintendence of Almighty God. In the Book of Isaiah God himself says:
5 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! 6 Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. (Isaiah 10:5–6 ESV)
After the armies of Assyria have served God’s purpose the Lord says:
I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.’ (Isaiah 37:29 ESV)
God uses the stick of Assyria to judge his own apostate people and to “stir the pot” of global affaires toward the ends that he had purposed. God is Sovereign – AND YET God holds these terrorists to account for their own evil motives and excesses. The Bible says:
When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. (Isaiah 10:12 ESV)
God is Sovereign and Assyria is responsible. How does that fit together? I don’t know, but I know that it does. Somehow God is ultimately Sovereign over this mass movement of people inspired by terrorist aggression and civil war in the Middle East. Not in a way that absolves ISIS, not in a way that absolves Assad, not in a way that absolves ANYONE, but in an ultimate sense, God is moving people for reasons that suit his purpose. As a Christian, before I start screaming for the proverbial barn door to be shut I want to at least ask WHAT IS GOD DOING IN THESE EVENTS? What is he saying? What does it mean? History has a purpose because it has an author. And in the end – the end of God’s Sovereign ordination – all of the players will be judged. Myself included. My response to Syrian refugees will be summoned as evidence of my Christian faith. Therefore, I want to decide my response in faith and not in fear. I want to think as someone who does not believe that the world is spinning out of control. I want to think as someone who remembers that:
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1 NKJV)
3. Jesus never promised you safety
Some Christians operate as if completely unaware that we follow a man who was executed. Our founder DIED ON A CROSS. How does that story inspire expectations of perpetual safety and security among his followers? And yet it does, at least in North America. Many Christians assume that safety is their birth right. But Jesus said:
they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9 ESV)
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18 ESV)
The world will hate you and you will be put to death. Jesus knew this and he accepted it as the cost of doing business. In fact when he first sent out his disciples he told them:
Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. (Luke 10:3 ESV)
The Christian mission has never been safe. It has always involved risk, uncertainty, suffering, hardship and tribulation. Who promised you safety?
North American Evangelicals have wrongly assumed that if something isn’t safe then it must not be God’s will. But God sent his Son to DIE for our salvation. He sent his Son on a mission that he KNEW would end in his death. Clearly this is not a God who absolutizes personal safety. This is a God who lives in the heavens. This is a God who knows the beginning from the end and therefore this is a God who calls on us to TAKE UP OUR CROSS AND FOLLOW HIM. As Dietrich Bonheoffer said:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
4. Compassion always comes at a cost
The most famous verse in the Bible begins by saying:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”. (John 3:16a)
Love is expensive. Compassion comes at a cost. The most famous parable ever told by Jesus makes a similar point. In the story of the Good Samaritan a man is beaten up by robbers (terrorists?) and left for dead on the side of the road. Some respectable folks walk by on the other side of the road, either too busy or too indifferent or too scared to get involved. But then the story takes a twist toward the convicting:
A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:33–37 ESV)
You go and do likewise. Take some risks. Get involved. Pay up. Compassion comes at a cost.
5. You were sojourners in the land of Egypt (literally and figuratively)
A great many ethical imperatives found within the Old Testament are rooted in Israel’s past experience of slavery. In fact, the 10 Commandments, the holy centre of all Jewish and Christian morality begins with the words:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2 ESV)
Because you were a slave and I set you free – by grace alone, you having done nothing to merit or deserve it – you must act in love and service toward me and towards others in a certain way. Morality is motivated by the memory of slavery and indebtedness. A particular application of this motivation is applied to the treatment of God’s people toward other poor and dependent peoples. In the section following and applying the 10 Commandments, God says to the covenant people:
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9 ESV)
You know the heart of a sojourner. You remember, or at least you should remember, what it was like to be weak and poor and powerless. You remember being at the mercy of evil forces. You were a slave. You were as good as dead. You were trapped in darkness. But I set you free. As you have freely received so you shall freely give.
Jesus told a story about the attitude of God toward people with short memories and hard hearts. Its not a terribly encouraging story, as stories go. Its known as the Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. There was a man – a lowly servant, who squandered and lost a great deal of his master’s money. The master was angry and was well within his rights to have the man and his entire family thrown into debtors’ prison, but the servant begged for mercy and the master, being a kindly man, forgave the debt in its entirety. The man however, quickly forgot the mercy he was shown.
28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 (Matthew 18:28–34 ESV)
According to the Bible God expects the memory of our indebtedness and our experience of God’s mercy to motivate us in extending undeserved pity and mercy towards others. Failure to do so invites the anger and judgment of God.
6. Sometimes God changes the game plan
Every once in a while God calls an audible at the line of scrimmage. I’m thinking of the time when the Apostle Paul was intent on further ministering in Asia Minor (western Turkey) when all of the sudden, God changed the plan.
7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:7–10 ESV)
God reserves the Sovereign right to mess with our plans and assumptions at any time. Get over it. For years we have assumed that the way to do missions is to send a few brave souls “over there” while the rest of us huddled in relative safety over here. What if God has a new plan? What if God’s new plan is to bring lots of people from “over there” over here and to have us all minister the Gospel to them collectively? What if God has a plan, a totally weird, crazy plan, to arrange somehow for the people in the Middle East MOST CONVINCED of the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of Islam to come HERE within easy reach of the Gospel? Is there risk involved? See point 3. There is risk with every plan and God makes the plan.
7. There will be people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshipping God in eternity
The Bible guarantees that every single people group will be represented in the New Heaven and the New Earth. The Apostle John was given a glimpse of the final worshipping community in Revelation 7; he said:
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV)
People from every nation. All tribes, peoples and languages. I think we can reasonably assume that there will be Syrians in that crowd along with Kurds, Libyans and Yazidis. I wonder how many of them will be there because of the warm welcome they received from North American Evangelical Christians? I wonder how many will be there because their kids were welcomed into Children’s Ministry at our churches, they were taught English, they were taught to skate and hit a ball and play Minecraft? How many will be there because of our cheesy church suppers and our sociable Small Groups? I hope for many. I hope God can still use us to accomplish his purposes in all the earth.
8. The king does not bear the sword in vain
I want to minister in Gospel hope to every Syrian refugee that our government decides to sponsor, screen and admit. But I also want to respect my government and any process for so doing that they determine to be in the best interests of our collective security. As an individual Christian my priorities are simple and uncompounded: I have been called to love, to serve and to witness. My government however has been given a very separate, though equally legitimate mandate; Romans 13:6 says that the government ministers are servants of God, attending to God’s concern for order and security. Romans 13:4 says that the king is “God’s servant for my good” and that “he does not bear the sword in vain”. God has given the government a certain mandate and certain extraordinary powers to execute that mandate. My job is to respect those people, the decisions that they make and the boundaries that they establish in the interests of our national security. My job, with respect to these folks, is pretty clear:
7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1 ESV)
In a democracy we have the right to make our voice heard, so let’s exercise that right. Let’s think Christianly about this crisis and let’s make our desires known to our elected representatives. And then let’s let them do their jobs. Let’s try and not change the message we are giving them with every new photo posted to Facebook. It’s a big, bad, scary world out there with no shortage of outrageous imagery. Let’s think, pause and pray. What would Jesus have us do? Faith has implications. Voice your understanding of those implications. And then respect the process. Respect the different concerns and exceptional authority of government ministers. They will decide how many refugees to admit. They will decide how many families we can collectively afford to support out of our available resources. At that point the focus should shift toward loving the people and sharing the Gospel. That’s a big part of what it means to pay to everyone what is owed.
9. Good and evil always grow together
Many Christians have posted pictures of Trojan Horses on social media over the last several days, obviously implying that there are likely ISIS operatives hiding among the mass of Syrian refugees. That is almost certainly true. It is almost certainly true that the devil has a plan side by side with the plan of God. The devil is planning harm. God is planning good. My money is on God.
It is possible, indeed likely, that both plans will appear to prosper in the short term, but Go’s plan will certainly triumph in the end. The parable of the wheat and the weeds reminds us that good and evil grow in the world together. The world is getting worse AND BETTER. Evil is on the march, and so is the cause of the Gospel! What seems to be disappearing is the middle ground. Gone are the days of intoxicating boredom and easy self indulgence – everything seems to matter nowadays; and so it does. Things probably will get worse because of this mass migration of people – and things will also certainly get better.
People will come to Christ because of this crisis. Masses upon masses will find themselves closer than they’ve ever been before to Gospel believing, Bible teaching churches. They will be exposed to the light after years of living in darkness. They will see the fruit of Gospel truth after tasting the bitter ash of idolatry and deceit for generations. These people are ready to believe. And these people are almost certainly harbouring evil men who mean us harm. It is entirely possible that the plan of the devil AND the plan of God will rapidly advance in North America due to this mass migration of people. Like the Bible says, they will grow together until the end. But what an end! According to Matthew 13 at the end the angels of God are sent out to gather the weeds FIRST and to throw them onto the fire. And then the wheat is gathered into the barn – the people of God are gathered unto God there to see his face and to enjoy him forever. God wins. In the end only one plan prospers. In the end God gets what he wants.
10. Heaven and hell are forever
Life is short. This world is not our home. If you could ask yourself 40 billion years into eternity how you should feel about the absolutely miniscule increase in risk to your present personal safety represented by this MASSIVELY SIGNIFICANT GOSPEL OPPORTUNITY I cannot help but wonder what you would say. As you reflect upon the souls of those who perished in ignorant defiance of the living God, again and again and again – I wonder what you would say? We do not forget the lost in eternity, not according to Isaiah 66.
22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.
24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:22–24 ESV)
I think I’ll want to know when I go out to look upon the dead bodies of those who perished in their rebellion that none of them perished because I was obsessed with my personal safety. I think I’ll want to know that I did not live my life paralyzed and sidelined by fear. I think I’ll want to know that I poured out my life to the dregs because God poured out his life to the dregs for me.
The sheer scale of eternity CHANGES THE MATH on all present calculation of risk. It has to. If you believe what Jesus says about heaven and you believe what he says about hell then THAT HAS TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT THIS OPPORTUNITY. It has to. Hell is forever. How can we even ask “What Would Jesus Do?” when we already know what Jesus said?
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46 ESV)
Everybody is going somewhere forever; that HAS TO CHANGE how we think and how we speak about these refugees. God might send them here! God might bring people we struggle to get to – HERE. To us. We don’t have to go there, the plan has changed, THEY’RE COMING HERE! Hallelujah! What a Savior! I am reminded of how far God had to reach to save me, now I see God making it easier for me to reach others – what a great God we serve!
Christian friends, this is the hour of decision. Our leaders are feeling the pressure to respond to this recent tragedy in Paris. PRAY FOR PARIS! Pray for the families of the victims, pray for the capture of the perpetrators. Pray for the restoration of order and pray for the thousands of frightened refugees – fleeing the same evil and the same horrors that we have now come to fear. Pray that they will not be abandoned by Christian people who have forgotten the grace and mercy they once received from God. Pray that we will seize this opportunity without fear and with great hope that God is going to do great things among the nations for his glory and our good always.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Read your Bibles. Take a deep breath. Pray for wisdom. And speak.
And May God Alone Be Glorified,
 As cited by Trevin Wax at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/11/15/should-we-really-close-the-border-to-refugees-heres-why-fear-drives-out-compassion/. Originally from ST II.II. q30, a2, ad2.
 From “Cost of Discipleship”.