What if, while America was asking questions about safety and risk management, Christians were asking, What is God doing? — David Crabb

How quickly our global discourse has changed since the body of 3-year old Aylan washed ashore seven weeks ago. It was the same week 11 other Syrian refugees met a similar fate, but this struck the world differently. “Image of Drowned Syrian Boy Echoes Around World,” proclaimed the Wall Street Journal. Echoes fade into darkness far too quickly.

political firestorm ignited this week as 26 U.S. state governors responded to the horrific attacks in Paris by banning refugees — solely on basis of race — from entering their states. One state leader even praised the systematic racism that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. State-sponsored internment camps were later deemed unnecessary and described as having stemmed from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” in a law passed by President Reagan.

As for Paris, The Washington Post reports that, “All the identified assailants are so far citizens of European Union countries.” Yet because one of the attackers was carrying a forged Syrian passport, the tides of favor have turned against Syrians fleeing terrorism in their own country.
Currently 1 of every 122 people alive on earth are displaced. Over 1.1 million people sought asylum last year — 25,300 of whom were children unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

According to data from the United Nations, this is the largest number of displaced people since WWII. And though 43 percent of the Syrian population is displaced the U.N. notes, “Major new displacement was also seen in Africa – notably in Central African Republic and South Sudan.”

This can be a difficult subject for Christians seeking to live faith in the modern world. The mandate to embrace displaced people is foundational to both the Old and New Testaments. ExodusLeviticusZechariahMark, and Luke, among numerous others, all instruct the faithful to welcome outsiders. Jesus, teaching in Matthew, goes as far as saying that those who do not welcome, feed, and care for “strangers” are not welcome in the kingdom (a similar prophecy is found in Malachi).
The Scriptures are the stories of refugees embraced at great risk and cost. Indeed our posture is to be like Christ, who offered his love while we were still enemies of his kingdom and its leader.

International Association for Refugees — which works with churches to seek the welfare of forcibly displaced people in Europe, Africa, and the US — observes that, “From beginning to end, Scripture is filled with stories of forcefully displaced people.” They chronicle examples of God’s embrace regardless of the reason for displacement — sin (Adam and Eve), invading kings (Lot), human trafficking (Joseph), famine (Jacob), exile (Daniel), political persecution (Jesus), or religious persecution (most early church leaders).

The stories of the displaced in our own world are harrowing. Last month The New Yorker profiled Ghaith, a 22-year-old Syrian law student who was working two jobs while studying to become a judge.Ultimately he had to flee Damascus, treacherously crossing 10 boarders before finding refuge in Sweden.

“All my friends were either dead or gone,” Ghaith reflected. His reasons for leaving, however, weren’t just self-preservation. The young Syrian knew he would face a mandatory military enlistment upon graduation. “The thing that frightened me most was that I would become a victim of the civil war — or, even worse, a killer in it.” Ghaith fled to avoid being forced to slaughter his neighbors. And while he counts himself fortunate, he will never be the same:
I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip… In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’

Ghaith’s story is one of hundreds that The U.N. Refugee Agency, Refugee ActionThe Washington Post, and others are tracking. These accounts open up our ability to empathize, but empathy can be quickly sapped up by fear-mongering.

In what could be considered an act of national irony, the top new song in Apple Music this week in the U.S. — while political commentary turns against the marginalized and oppressed — is a rendition of Great is Thy Faithfulness from the TV show, The Voice.
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Those most vulnerable will suffer unimaginably as our world writhes under the weight of evil. And complexities of the current crisis demand more than an either/or response to those seeking shelter from the storm. Our country needs Christian leaders asking questions like those David Crabb asked this week on Desiring God, “What if, through the senseless evil of civil war, God was bringing unreached people groups to our cities? What if, through great tragedy, God was bringing about the triumph of the gospel?”

My prayer is that our leaders (political, religious, and others) would enter into dialogue, taking action to care for the broken and continuing to protect our nation. May we echo the faithfulness of Christ, may we not cast a shadow of turning, may our compassion fail not — this is how a wounded world will experience the love of Christ.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen – 4:38)
James 2 (Listen – 3:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 16 (Listen – 5:21) James 3 (Listen – 2:38)
1 Chronicles 17 (Listen – 4:14) James 4 (Listen – 2:25)

The Weekend Reading List


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Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov, UPAF.

This piece was co-published with OnFaith.