Because we are enculturated people, we always read Scripture from a particular vantage point. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider the lens we use and to try reading the Bible from the vantage point of others. I’d like to suggest that you take a tour of the Bible through the eyes of a refugee–a displaced person. Some 60 million people in the world today live displaced from their homes due to human and natural caused disasters. They have lost most if not all of their comforts (language, home, family, land, food, community, protection, job, etc).
Does the bible have anything to say about their experiences?
Right off, we see Adam and Eve, forcibly displaced from their lovely home, barred by an angel with a flaming sword, never to return. We often think about their culpability. It was their own sin that caused this trouble. Set aside that fact. Imagine what it was like for them to be removed from the best place ever to live and then to live for over 900 years in exile where nothing could compare to what was lost.
At the other end of the Bible we have John writing Revelation from…wait for it…exile on Patmos. In between these bookends, we have Abraham as sojourner. Israel moves to Egypt to escape a famine only to be enslaved for 400 years. Generations later David is on the run from Saul. Still later, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are sent off to exile with only a small remnant able to return after 70 years. Displacement doesn’t stop at the end of the Old Testament. Jesus’ first life experience is on the run from King Herod. Later, after Pentecost, Christians flee Jerusalem to avoid Jewish and Roman persecution.
But there is much more to see in the Bible than examples of displacement. Consider these biblical themes that relate to refugee experiences:
- God pursues displaced people. God chases down Adam and Eve after their sin. During the time of the Judges, God becomes impatient with Israel’s misery
- God protects even within trouble. When Cain is exiled for murdering Abel, God marks Cain in order to protect him. Israel grows while enslaved. Exiles in Babylon rise to leadership.
- God sees our troubles and he is moved by it. Notice God’s special kindness to Hagar.
- God wants to hear our complaints. With 1/3 of the Psalms in the form of laments, it is clear God desires to hear our complaints and groaning. He even writes words for us to repeat when we can’t find our own.
- God invites us to share in his life by willingly displacing himself to share in our pain. The incarnation reveals a God who willingly leaves perfection in relationship and community and lowers himself into a world of war and brokenness. His work enables us to enter in with those who have been displaced, “for such a time as this.”
- God prepares a place where we will one day be at home again. One day, we will all be at home in our true country with bodies that work as they were originally designed.
These truths do not remove the pain of displacement now. God’s protection in this world is not one that keeps us from all harm. In fact, our relationship with him promises that sharing in his death and resurrection we will face sorrow upon sorrow. However, knowing that God pursues us, sits with us, listening to our complaints, and provides blessings in the midst of hardship gives us hope for the day with all will be made right.
So, the next time you hear about the political and social challenges due to illegal immigration in the United States or the crisis in the Middle East and Europe, let that be a reminder to go to your Bible and read as if you are yourself displaced. Surely, we all need to work together to find solutions to these problems we face today. I suspect, however, we will be more prepared when we have the mind of Christ regarding displaced peoples. See how that perspective shapes how you live your life today and how you decide to respond to those in greater need than yourself.