By Linda McMillan
Teresa of Avila once said to God, “If this is how You treat Your friends, it’s no wonderr You have so few.” Job might have felt the same way. I am fairly sure he did.
In the book of Job, our protagonist is a blameless and upright man who undergoes a hellish series of losses. It’s really beyond belief. Finally, in Chapter 31, Job had had enough and he began defending himself in a series of if/then statements. “If I’ve done THIS, then you can do THAT,” he cries. Sometimes that’s called an oath of clearance. It’s a last-ditch measure to get some justice. In his defense, one of the things Job notes is that he was always kind to strangers:
“…no stranger had to spend the night in the street,
for my door was always open to the traveler.”
In other words, Job’s home was a place of refuge. Refugees could go there. Strangers, foreigners… anybody could go to Job’s house for refuge.
Maybe Job had read Exodus 23:9:
Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt
Or, Leviticus 19:34:
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
Or Deuteronomy 10:18
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
Or maybe he remembered that Sarah and Abraham were migrants, Moses had to flee to Midian, Jacob ran for his life, Esther was a refugee.
From the comfort of our western affluence it is easy to think that refugees are other people. In the news we hear a lot about refugees from far-off places. They are foreigners. Strangers. But, one doesn’t have to read very far in the Bible to see that we are strangers, foreigners, and refugees too. In the Bible angels instruct us to move, dreams warn us to leave, famines compel us onward, armies force us out of our homes, and, occasionally, God liberates us, but we are always moving! it is not an idle point, because God’s own voice reminds us over and over… YOU were foreigners, YOU were strangers. Later, when God came in person, he would become a refugee too. Being the refugee is in our spiritual DNA.
And as a refugee people, we have looked to our God for refuge:
Psalm 46:1… “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Psalm 62:8… God is a refuge for us. Selah.
Psalm 71:7: but thou art my strong refuge.
Psalm 91:2: I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress:
Psalm 94:22: God is the rock of my refuge.
Psalm 142:5: Thou art my refuge.
There are other references to God as a refuge, a strength, even a hope, and those words are all related by the same root. But these verses are especially important because they are from the Psalter. The psalm writers intended for these words to be sung over and over. It’s the kind of writing that is designed to seep deeply into people’s consciousness. Just as you and I can quote long passages of the Book Of Common Prayer, or sing all the verses of our favorite hymns, these words are important. They remind us that not only have we been refugees, but we have a refuge too!
For most of its history, our country – if you’re a United Stater – has been a place of refuge. The words on the base of our Statue of Liberty, Mother of Exiles, clearly state that her lamp glows in world-wide welcome. Yet, yesterday we heard of a scheme to refuse admittance to those already properly vetted, some already enroute, and to turn them back. There is, of course, no Christian justification for such an action. But, it seems to be a problem that affects mainly others. This time at least we are not the refugee.
Refuge, though, goes beyond finding a safe spot to sleep at night. It is about more than food, clothes, and physical safety. The reason this political act is so resonate with spiritual people is because we have all needed some kind of refuge, and maybe even now we need some mental, spiritual, or psychic refuge from the craziness.
I know of several people who have left social media recently, taking refuge in the solid world of family and community. One friend spent the winter in the refuge of word games. Another has started a trans-Asia bike tour, to “get away from everything.” That’s his refuge. Sometimes we just need a safe space in which to be ourselves. The state of the world does not lend itself to authenticity, or vulnerabity, yet we are all yearning to berathe the clear air of honesty and safety.
The Bible offers some instruction in how to become a refuge.
Invite people in
Give them food and water
Treat them well
I think these are the things that make for refuge, physical or spiritual. Lots of Christians and Christian groups are involved in offering physical refuge to those who need it. There are more refugees in the world today than at any other time in history. So, we need that good work. But I wonder how we might start offering spiritual refuge to one another.
These really are crazy times. That’s no longer a political statement, just a statement of fact. How can we create safe spaces for ourselves, for fellow travelers, and even for those whom we believe are our enemies so that there is some relief from the madness? How can we create places of welcome where people are allowed to be themselves and to be vulnerable?
On this day when we remember the beatitudes, I can’t help but see that these blessed, or honored, positions are also among the most vulnerable: Poor in spirit, those mourning, the meek, those who are hungry for something more, the merciful, pure, peaceful, those who are persecuted. Is there a way to welcome all of those refugees into the joyful community?
Job certainly knew the law, he was blameless and upright, after all. But could he have very presciently known – long before Paul wrote to the Galatians – that the whole of the law would be summed up in these words:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
In other words, all you refugees, should love the other refugees as much as you love yourselves. Welcome one another, feed one another, treat each other well.
Linda McMillan lives in Yangzhong, Chin. – Home of the Pufferfish.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
You can read all of Job’s if/then statements in Job 31
Job 31:32…”…no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.”
When God came in person… Imanuel means God with us. Jesus was God with us. Herod sought Jesus’s life and so Jesus’s parents, Mary and Joseph, had to flee into Egypt where they were refugees. Matthew 2:13-15
You can read Emma Lazarus’s poem here.
Job 1:8… Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
We think that we have enemies, but we do not. Actually, we’re all in it together. There are no enemies.
There are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in the world. <a href=”http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html”>UNHCR</a>
How to treat refugees:
We should let refugees choose what town they want to live in, and we should not mistreat them. Deuteronomy 23:15-16
We should save them from violence. 2 Samuel 22:3
We should give them food and water, and invite them in like Job did. Matthew 25:35