Thursday, November 26, 2015
Churching the State to Justify the Samaritans
For this week's newspapers, I answered a question about the Good Samaritan and Syrian Refugees:
Q: Does the Bible offer any principles about what the U.S. Government policy should be on whether to take refugees from Syria and the Middle East? Are the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Old Testament laws regarding treatment of foreigners relevant to the question?
While many people might read the parable of the Good Samaritan as a moral lesson about charity and how a person should respond to others in need, it is actually about much more. While it certainly is good to help those who are suffering (which other passages of Scripture reveal), the parable is, first and foremost, about Jesus Himself. In the parable, the character of the Good Samaritan is not a president or a senator. In fact, the character of the Good Samaritan is not even any ordinary human. The Good Samaritan is Jesus!
And the character in the parable that represents humanity is not even the priest or the Levite, but instead, the victim is the character in the parable which plays our role. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, comes down into our uncleanness to cure and heal us, completely apart from our worthiness or ability to repay. Understanding this reality completely changes how we approach the parable and rules out its application to a government’s acceptance of refugees, unless we want to suggest that the Government or the president are our savior.
Many who have attempted this application have also made reference to a handful of Old Testament laws regarding the treatment of foreigners. The difficulty with this attempt is that those laws were not universal laws given to humanity, but rather, they were given particularly to the nation of Israel. So, if we were to suggest that these laws carry over into the present day, rather than being fulfilled in Jesus, we would have to apply them not to the United States Government, since it is not constituted by God or committed to serving Him, but rather to the Church.
Probably the most relevant passages of Scripture in relation to this issue are the New Testament sections that describe the role of government, particularly in Paul’s Epistles. In these passages, the role of Governments which are not Ancient Israel is consistently described as being to provide safety and stability to their citizens. The Church, then, has the role of helping those in need under the umbrella of that stable and secure nation.
So, in the present circumstances, the Government’s role is to do whatever is in the best interest of our nation’s security, even if it is not the most humanitarian choice for those outside of our borders, because its duty is to its own citizens. If it comes down to helping people from other parts of the globe with the result of incurring a substantial risk to its own citizens’ safety, or providing security to its own citizens while denying help to non-citizens, our government’s Biblically-mandated priority is to protect its own citizens.
The Church’s role, on the other hand, is to help those in need. So, if our government should choose to allow the entry of refugees, then Christians are called to demonstrate the Lord’s mercy by helping those who arrive on our shores. If the government determines the threat to our security is too great, then we are still able to provide help through the hands of our fellow Christians and their Churches in the parts of the world where the refugees find a home.
The government has its own particular God-given role, and the Church has its own, but as we address these circumstances, it is important to distinguish those roles and apply the proper scriptures to the proper roles as we seek Biblical answers to the questions at hand.