Immigration In The Bible

Immigration and The Fall

The account of Creation teaches us that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore the proper object of respect (Gen. 1-2).The account of the Fall teaches us that every human being is an immigrant trying to get back home and therefore the proper object of compassion. When Adam and Eve fell they were expelled from the garden and became the first immigrants (Gen. 3). Immigration reminds us that all is not well in our world. Immigration is a complex issue with many tangled roots. These roots include things like history, politics, economics and the personal and normal longings to escape suffering and experience something better. This should give us pause and move us to view immigrants with compassion.

Immigration and Redemptive History

As we look in the Bible we find that immigration is one of God’s favorite tools to get his plan accomplished. Abraham the “the father of the faith” was called by God to leave his homeland and go to a land that God would show him (Gen. 12.1). He obeyed and became an immigrant. God used immigration for the purpose of preservation as when he moved the patriarchs to Egypt (Gen. 46). God used immigration as a platform to make his name famous in the Exodus. He used immigration to preserve the line of the Messiah as told in the book of Ruth. He used immigration as a tool to discipline his people in the Babylonian Captivity. In Acts 17 Paul tells us that God is in complete control over countries, borders and peoples for the purpose of being found by people:

        And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all
        the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the
        boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in
        the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him
        – Acts 17.26-27

Since God is in control of the duration of peoples and their dominion over geographical territories this should move us to ask what God might be up to in the immigrant movements around us.

Immigration and the Incarnation

When God the Son became a human being he experienced what we go through as human beings. He was tempted in every way as we are (Heb. 4.15) including those that are peculiar to immigrants/minorities. As a child he and his family were refugees in Egypt having had to migrate on account of the political climate (Matt. 2.13-15). They had to leave because powerful people wanted Jesus dead. To protect their son Joseph Mary took him and entered as immigrants into another country. And although the family later returned to their own country it was a country under the control of another power. Jesus lived, ministered and died as a part of a subjugated people. The fact that Jesus identified with an oppressed people should raise the question of how his representatives might relate
to the powerless in their midst.

Immigration and the Church

Because of the ethnic tensions that existed in the world of the New Testament the church stood out as foretaste of something better. The church was designed by God where social distinctions would not be the basis of fellowship (Gal 3.28). It was a reality that dawned on the church slowly (Acts 10 – 11) and continues to be a challenge to live out today. Nevertheless, it is true that in the church there is no foreigner for we all are family. Yet, in an ironic twist, this new family in its entirety has become pilgrims and strangers in the earth. The church relates to the world as an immigrant people because we are sent as missionaries to all the world (Matt 28.19) and because our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil.3.20). As sojourners we are in the world but not of it (John 17.16-18). The immigrants amongst us serve as a reminder of what we should be in the world and in our own country. We should not totally fit in with the culture around us. Perhaps one of the main ways we shouldn’t fit in with the mainstream is by being eager to be gracious toward the immigrant.

Immigration and Us

Most of the conversation regarding immigration revolves only around matters of legality. For those who are far removed from the realities that cause immigration it is a simple matter of “obeying the law of the land” (Rom 13.1 – 7). But Christians are called to live by something higher – the law of love (Rom 13.8 – 10). Immigration is not so much about a problem to be solved but about a people to be loved. The context for the oft repeated imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself” includes your immigrant neighbor.

        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

Because immigration is largely rooted in The Fall our posture toward the immigrant should be one of compassion. Because immigration is a tool that God uses to accomplish his purpose in the world we should assume that God is up to something in the movement of peoples in our own day. Because Jesus identified with the subjugated and the marginalized, his people should do so too. Because the command to love your neighbor is greater than the law of the land we should look at immigration with a priority on people before policies.


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