Considering the issue of refugees in the news of late, Dan casts a helpful light on the matter through the lens of the Book of Ruth.
Dan will be monitoring my blog in case anyone wants to engage him in conversation.
The God of Refugees, Part 1: Entering God's Space
L. Daniel Hawk, Ph.D
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help when in trouble. Psalm 46:1b
"Refuge" is a word often associated with the God of Israel, especially in biblical prayers (occurring more than twenty times in the Psalms alone). Yahweh is a Refuge for all who come to God for protection, help, and provision. Yahweh welcomes and shelters those who enter God's space looking for help, who take refuge under the shadow of God’s wings (Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 63:7; 91:4).
By extension, those who live within Yahweh's sheltering presence are refugees-- beneficiaries of gracious, divine hospitality. This identity is underscored, in this season, by the Church's commemoration of Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)-- which reminds us that Jesus began his life as a refugee.
I've been thinking about the God of Refugees in the light of the massive displacements of populations that engulf our world, and as we debate in our nation and in our churches what to do about those who seek refuge among us: the children whose parents like Jesus seek refuge after fleeing places of massive and wanton violence; the children who appear at our southern border, sometimes alone and always at the end of risky journeys; the children who land with their families on small Greek islands; and the children who don't make it.
Now as in biblical times, the influx of refugees provokes anxiety on the part of those whose space they enter. That anxiety is manifested most viscerally in an impulse to protect "our" space. The arrival of refugees portends change and uncertainty. The problem is that those who've entered our space are not like "us," however we define "us" to be. We don't know much about them. We wonder what they'll take from us. To what extent they'll fit in and to what extent they'll change us.
Christian response to refugees, I suggest, extends to others what God has done for us. At the heart of Christian faith stands God's invitation to enter God's space and share God’s life-- even though we, who were once outsiders, could not be more unlike God. We who are finite and fickle, prone to selfishness and self-seeking, are nonetheless welcomed into God’s space through the work and advocacy of the Son-- the same Son whose love met with rejection and violence from those whom God now welcomes. God offers us a place at the divine table, shares the divine life with us, and makes us participants in the divine nature-- knowing full well how surly and unpleasant we can be.
In light of this gracious gift, we are given the task of doing on earth what is done in heaven. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To treat others the way we want to be treated. To love as God loves. What then does it mean to be a people who reflects and embodies the God of Refugees?
The book of Ruth presents a vivid illustration of what this looks like in real life. In this story set in Bethlehem-- the same Bethlehem that centuries later will witness the birth of a Child to parents who are refused decent housing in time of need-- we see the human expression of divine hospitality to the outsider. In the next three posts, I'll read Ruth with this in mind and with a view toward how the narrative might enable us to better see as God sees and love as God loves.