Amidst all the discussion and debate in the world right now concerning how to respond to the refugee, I am convinced that our greatest need is to hear from God's Word—to see how God relates and responds to the refugee. What is most needed in our culture, and particularly in the church, is a God-centered view of the refugee crisis.
So in view of more practical discussions my aim is to point us to five biblical truths concerning God. These are five truths that I assume we all know, but I hope these truths might serve as reminders that help us see the refugee through the lens of the majesty, glory, and grandeur of our God. These five truths then lead to five exhortations.
Five Biblical Truths Concerning God
1. God reigns sovereign over all things.
As we look at all that is going on in the world around us, we must remember that God is sovereign over it all. This is the testimony of Scripture from beginning to end. Consider . . .
God is sovereign over all nature.
The wind blows at His bidding; the light of the sun shines according to His command; the stars in the sky appear because our God brings them out “one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26, NIV). There is not a speck of dust on the planet that exists apart from the sovereignty of our God.
God is sovereign over nations.
He charts the course of countries. He holds the rulers of the earth in the palm of His hand. This is good news that we must remember: it is good news to know that Assad in Syria is not sovereign over all. It is good news to know that Vladimir Putin in Russia is not sovereign over all. Neither is Kim Jong Un in North Korea or Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel or Barack Obama in the United States. Our God is sovereign over all of them. It is good news to know that no matter what happens in 2016, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are sovereign over all. God is.
God is sovereign over suffering in this world.
Remember the book of Job, where God is called “the Almighty” 31 times, and the story is told in such a way that it is clear: God is sovereign over everything, and Satan is sovereign over nothing. In Job 1, the Accuser appears before God with limited ability. He must be allowed by God to afflict. Amidst all the mystery that shrouds this scene, one conclusion is clear: the power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. Satan can’t do anything apart from divine permission. Satan is on a leash, and God holds the reigns. In Job we learn that . . .
- God is almighty; Satan is not.
- God is omnipotent; Satan is not.
- God is omniscient; Satan is not.
- God is omnipresent; Satan is not.
- God is sovereign; Satan is not sovereign.
Satan is never sovereign. When Job is inflicted with sores, it’s not Satan who has ultimate power over Job’s health; God does.
God is sovereign over life and death.
Satan is not sovereign over whether or not Job lives or dies; God is. If God wills, we live, James 4:15 says. If God doesn’t will, we die. Job makes clear: God is sovereign over comfort, and God is sovereign over calamity. He says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21) . . . not “The Lord gives . . . and Satan takes away.” Job asks his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) Then, in the same verse, the Bible tells us, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). So we must be careful in our lives not to sin with our lips, or even with our thoughts.
In view of suffering in the world like we are considering, entire theologies have developed which claim that God is doing the best He can under the circumstances, but ultimately He doesn’t have control over evil and suffering around us. But let me remind us: amidst suffering in this world, it will not bring much comfort to consider that Satan is in control. If the power of God is limited, then how can we be confident in any promises He has made?
Obviously, there is mystery in Scripture (and debate among Christians) over how God’s sovereignty intertwines with man’s responsibility, but the Bible is crystal clear on this: God is in control, and Satan is controlled. God is sovereign, and Satan is subordinate. This is not some sort of Star Wars dualism, where good and evil are equal forces warring against one another. No, this is not dualism; this is domination. And it’s all over Scripture . . .
- When Job is afflicted, God is in control.
- When Joseph is sold into slavery, God is in control.
- When evil kings act in Israel’s history, God is still in control.
- When religious leaders and Roman officials sentence Jesus to death and crucify Him on a cross, God is in control of it all.
- When Christians are preaching the gospel to the nations and being killed in the process, God is in control.
- When we get to the end of the Bible, and we see the cosmic battle for the souls of men and women throughout history, praise God—He is in control.
God is in control and Satan is subordinate to Him in every page of the Bible and on every page of history, including even the refugee crisis that currently surrounds us. This reality leads to truth number two.
2. God oversees the movement of all peoples.
This truth is simply the outgrowth of the first truth, most clearly explained by Paul at Mars Hills in Acts 17:26-27:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
That God oversees the movement of all peoples is obvious throughout the Old Testament narrative, as God raises up peoples and sends them here; He disperses nations and scatters them there. At His appointed time, God sent Israel to Egypt, and at His appointed time, God brought Israel from Egypt. He orchestrated the exile from Jerusalem and He orchestrated the return to Jerusalem. Even in the New Testament, we see God using suffering, like the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), to scatter His church from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth. So when we see the migration of peoples due to a multiplicity of reasons, we must recognize that it is all occurring under the ultimate governance of God. And Acts 17 says God’s doing it all for a reason—that people might seek Him, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.
Again, much more could be said here, but make no mistake: God aims to be sought, found, known, and enjoyed by all the peoples of the world, and He oversees their travels toward that end. In His goodness, our God turns even the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation. It is this goodness of our God that leads to a third truth.
3. Let’s act justly.
What does the Lord require of us? Not that we talk justice, but that we “do justice” (Micah 6:8); that we love mercy; that contrite lives before God would produce courageous leadership before others.
4. Let us love sacrificially.
We all know the story of the Good Samaritan and all he did for the man in need (Luke 10:25-37). He took him, cared for him, provided for him, and paid for him. He sacrificed for everything he needed, without question or hesitation.
Think about it: have you ever done that for somebody? Have you ever seen someone in need and cared for them like that—sacrificed for everything they needed, without question or hesitation? I’m guessing you have. I’m guessing almost every one of us has done that for somebody... and that somebody is you. When you’ve not been well, you’ve done whatever it takes—gone over the top—to make sure that you are cared and provided for. And Jesus is saying, “Love strangers like that.” Love even your enemies like that—like yourself.
5. Let us hope confidently.
There is coming a day when sin and suffering will be no more.There is coming a day when wars and crises will no longer exist. In this truth, we place confident hope. We know that, in reality, at this moment, every follower of Christ finds himself or herself in a foreign land. In the words of 1 Peter and Hebrews we are "sojourners and exiles" (1 Peter 2:11) who long for "a better country" (Hebrews 11:16). We are "seeking a homeland", a "city that is to come." (Hebrews 11:14; 13:14).
We’re migrants here, a collective multicultural citizenry of an otherworldly kingdom. So we wait, and we work, in our day, in anticipation of that day, when we will gather with a “great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). Together, not as sojourners and exiles anymore, but as sons and daughters, we will give our God the glory He is due.
(This post was taken from an address given by David Platt at the GC2 Summit in Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 2015)
Photo Credit: James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA (Iraqi refugee children, Damascus, Syria) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons