My expertise is not foreign relations. It is not national security. I want to be clear that I am not a “how” kind of guy. Even in the fields where I am more of an expert, I do not do well with “how” questions. So I am not coming to this blog post pretending to know how to solve the world’s problems.
But I am a pastor. My job is to deal closely with the Bible and with my people and with the world in which my people live. Lots of people do what I do. I am not the world’s expert. I am just a guy. Please don’t think that I think I’m anything more than that.
What happened in Paris (and Kenya and Beirut) was horrendous. It was bloody and awful and terrifying. Apparently, disaster may have been averted today in Hannover as a truck bomb disguised as an ambulance was discovered near a football (soccer) stadium. Maybe? Things have been bad in the news, so it’s not hard to believe that was the case. And they have been scary. ISIS seems like a menacing super-villain who is so sneaky that it’s hard to see them ever stopped.
I told my congregation on Sunday that I could see two possibilities for good motivations gone bad in the days following these attacks. We could cry out for justice, but subtly drift into a thirst for vengeance. The rhetoric could sound remarkably similar, but hunger for something radically different. We could also give ourselves over to fear. We could move from being more aware of our need to be wise in preventing these disasters, to acting out of that icy pit in the center of our gut.
Now we are faced with this spectrum of possibilities when we face our decision point: what do we do with Syrian refugees?
In some sense, we now understand Syrian refugees better than ever. ISIS is a band of mad-men. Psychopaths who are bloodthirsty and murderous. Syrians are fleeing from these crazy people who have stepped into a volatile nation and somehow made it way, way worse. Syrians are fleeing in droves to get themselves and their families away from the same people that terrorized Paris. We’ve seen in a Western country what their madness looks like. We get it now better than ever, maybe.
But we also see how deadly ISIS is. We see that they are wickedly cunning and we are unsure what to do with Syrians who are desperate for safety when we’ve been told that ISIS will use refugees as cover to enter the borders of their enemies.
So what do we do?
Do we hunger after vengeance for the evil they’ve done and want to do? My my, that’s tempting. I mean, there’s some deep part of me that wants… wreckage. I really hate what they’ve done not just in Paris, but in Syria and Iraq. I don’t want to just see punishment for what was done, but… craters. I’m not a pacifist, so I do believe the government wields the sword for a reason. But some part of me is tempted to delight in the idea of a sword swinging wildly.
We have to pay attention to our hearts in moments like these. For there is an enemy lying in wait for us there too. We cannot ignore that beast.
Do we give ourselves over to fear? The easiest way to make sure our families are not hurt here is isolate ourselves and make sure no one gets close to where we are. Our government’s duty is to protect its citizens. There would be something comforting about being alone with ourselves.
I think at volatile times like these, we have to step back and look at where we might be prone to wander off and worship idols.
The tricky thing about idols today is that we don’t build obvious shrines to them. This would be so much easier if we had to go have orgies to enact our idolatry. “Well honey, time to go worship Molech! I’ll be in town, burning our children! Need me to pick anything up on the way home?” Things would be so much more easy to spot that way.
Of course, that’s not the idolatry that we’re familiar with these days. Our idols are sneakier than that.
I’d suggest (and I know I’m not alone in this, so I know I’m not too clever) that in America, there may be no greater, more powerful idol than Security. We are not used to being physically insecure, afraid for our lives. We are not used to being emotionally in turmoil about our fate. We are Americans, daggummit. We are masters of the world! Our lives are very often defined by our thirst for security. We often purchase our security with our paychecks, but we seek it out in a hundred other ways, too. People, activities, lack of activities or people, etc. We crave safety. We worship it.
Of course, we Americans also tend to have a Messiah complex a belief that we should fix everything ourselves. We’re often asked to be a part of solutions, but we volunteer for the role too. We can subtly believe that we are the hope of civilization. I guess we’re not even subtle about it, plenty of times.
So let’s step back and look at this issue of Syrian refugees. We see the issues: Innocent families desperate for safety and shelter. Very bad guys desperate to do evil and use refugees as cover. Now let’s stop and spot our idols as well: We crave security and are terrified when we don’t have it. We love to be the world’s Superman.
Now, in this situation, which idol are we most likely to be hypnotized by? For some of us, it will be Security. For some of us, Messiah complex. I’m not saying that being concerned about safety or wanting to solve the crisis means you’re under the sway of either one. All I’m saying is that it’s important to recognize the propensity inside of us to be easily lulled by either Siren song.
I don’t think we can solve any refugee crisis by ourselves. And, frankly, I think it would be foolish to ignore an enemy that tells you part of its battle plan. But I don’t think we can give in to the temptations of the god Security, either. We are in an unsafe position. It is unsafe to allow Syrian refugees in. Christian people, though, should also recognize that we could very easily replicate ancient Israel and fail to care for the poor and the weak and come under the scrutiny of the God who names himself as being for the poor, the widow, and the sojourner. It is dangerous to cross God, too.
For me, I know I would rather err towards being in danger with terrorists rather than be in danger before God. I know that my tendency is to be ruled by the god of Security and I don’t want to listen. I know this may mean that I could be inclining my ear to a Savior complex as well.
I don’t have all the answers for you. I said that at the top. I don’t have a thorough and complete answer for you. If I did, I would be…. important or something. I’m not. I don’t know how many refugees we can reasonably and wisely accept. I refuse to believe that that number is a zero. I’ve written my state government to object to my governor refusing to work with refugee programs. I don’t know how much more thorough the screening process should be. I don’t know numbers. I don’t know the percentage chance that we will have an ISIS cell sneak in. I really don’t know.
But I know that ISIS was bred to work in tandem with Security to cripple me with fear. I don’t want to give them what they want. I know they want me to hate and reject Muslims to fuel their plea for power against a belligerent West. I want to be free of their tyranny of fear and hate as much as or more than I want to be free from suicide bombers. Do I know how to do that well, as wisely as possible? No. I hope that the wise people whom God has ordained to rule will answer all those “how” questions way better than I could. My job is not to do their job.
My job is sit here and ask questions, to hope, and, most importantly, to pray. I pray that the good King over all the earth will bring justice. I pray that the Rescuer will show us how to act. I pray that the Comforter will draw close to the outcast. I pray that the people of God will faithfully follow the Spirit of God and live by his direction shutting our ears to the temptations of Security and Self-Savior.
Make us small, O Lord, and eager to lean close to You. May those who weep in the darkness of fear and displacement be brought close to an everlasting home found in Your arms. May your Church lean not on the understanding of the ways of this world, but rather give herself over to the logic of Your Kingdom. Let us be humble under the direction of Your wisdom. Grant Your divine wisdom to those whom You’ve called to govern. May we honor them with our prayers, our questions and challenges, and our Jesus-centered submission that they might feel loved and honored. We ask this, Father, not for betterment of any political party or cause, but for the glory of King Jesus who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever, world without end. Amen.