This refugee crisis has exposed an “idol” in my heart; the idol of “security”. I love the safety of our home and I’m grateful for the security our local police and Armed Forces provide for us each and every day. But my love affair with “safety and security” has made me susceptible to fear. The moment I begin to make decisions primarily out of fear, is the moment I must admit that I’ve made a god out of security.
If I’m honest, I don’t want to open the borders to the refugees from the Middle East because I am afraid. I am afraid that there are ISIS soldiers who have infiltrated the ranks of the refugees. I am afraid that our government won’t be able to adequately identify them. I’m afraid that they will move in next door to me. I’m afraid that they might harm my family or neighbors or community, like they did in Paris.
But I don’t want to react out of fear. And clearly, the Lord doesn’t want us to react primarily out of fear either:
Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
2 Timothy 1:7 – for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
But idols are tricky. They often appeal to a noble or moral concern, and then twist it into an absolute. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect your family and neighbors. We’re told to provide for our family (1 Tim. 5:8), and surely provision for one’s family would include the provision of safety from harm, as much as one can affect that. We’re also told to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Luke 10:27), and if I wouldn’t open my home to a potential ISIS soldier, then how can I support a plan for my neighbor to do so? Besides, with news reports surfacing of Syrian refugees with fake passports attempting to enter the US, is it really that implausible to suspect that ISIS-influenced terrorists may be among the refugees headed our way? Are we really so naïve as to believe that our government will be able to fully vet and/or track these refugees once they’ve arrived?
So, there is a noble ethic at play when someone desires to look out for the safety and security of one’s family and neighbors. But, at some point, that noble ethic becomes the all-encompassing absolute from which all of my decisions are made. At that point, I’ve made safety and security an idol, and I’m at risk of operating out of my sinful nature, rather than out of the redeemed nature of one rescued by grace through faith.
And so, this issue is complex, not simple. Simple answers are likely to have neglected thoughtful considerations such as these sobering questions:
To those in favor of inviting refugees in, are you willing to open your home to them? Like literally, invite refugees into your home to live for several months as they wade through immigration paperwork and look for employment? What reason might you give for not doing so? Not enough money? Not enough space? Not enough time? Not willing to risk the safety of your teenage daughter? If you succumb to any of these thoughts, are you being driven by sinful fear, or by an earnest desire to protect and guard your family?
Conversely, to those in favor of keeping the refugees in “safe havens” and helping from a distance, are you willing to go over and help them? Like, literally, leave your home and job and spend a month in Greece helping refugees re-settle? What reasons might you give for not doing so? Not enough money? Not enough time? Not my problem? If you succumb to any of these thoughts, are you being driven by a genuine desire to protect and guard your family and country, or by sinful apathy for the suffering of others?
Thoughtful Christians will see the inherent hypocrisy that is possible from both positions.
Security and compassion don’t always need to be antithetical. Working to keep our families and neighbors safe and secure on the one hand, and showing compassion to those suffering are not mutually exclusive pursuits. So, how can we do both? How can we appropriately protect our family and neighbors from an evil intent on harming them, while at the same time displaying the kind of compassion Jesus expects of us?
At this point, we’re all just part of the conversation. Sure, we can and should seek to influence the decision-makers (whether they be our governors, our legislators, or our President), but in the end a decision will be made either to open the doors to the refugees, or close them. The critical moment for each of us will be what we do once that decision is made. If the doors are open, what will we do to love, welcome, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with these new sojourners while not letting down our guard to protect those people whom God has entrusted to us to protect? If our country shuts its borders, what will we do to extend the reach of radical Gospel love across the seas to demonstrate that we truly care about their plight? What will I do? What will you do?
Until then, I’ll keep fighting against the idols in my own heart with the strength that Jesus supplies, and praying that God would grant me wisdom and courage to face this crisis with bold confidence, firm conviction, and genuine compassion.