I believe that a country has the right to protect its borders and enforce its laws. I do not believe that people are doing the correct thing by entering the United States illegally. I believe Christians should respect the law of the land.
But sometimes there are circumstances which are not as simple as “respecting the law”. Sometimes human compassion takes precedence over law. This compassion is taught in the Hebrew Scriptures and by Jesus himself. Let me explain:
Boaz is a Bible hero because he showed compassion to “a foreigner in the land.” He understood fully the teachings of the Bible as they relate to the “stranger”. No doubt Boaz was aware of God’s love for the foreigner and as a Hebrew, he knew of this great statement from the Torah:
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deut. 10:17ff)
So it is no surprise that when Boaz met Ruth, a Moabite woman, he did not see her as a repulsive foreigner. Ruth says, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
Remember that the Law of Moses forbad any Moabite from being in the assembly of the Lord in the Land. Every Israelite was forbidden to promote a Moabite’s welfare or prosperity (Deut. 23:3-6). It was also forbidden to marry a Moabite (Neh. 13). According to the Hebrew “constitution” it was unlawful for people like Ruth to be included in Israeli society. When Boaz gave Ruth harbor and safety, and when he married her, he did it illegally. Yet we seem to view Boaz a hero. We understand that compassion is more important than the law of the land.
It was because of economic hardship (a result of famine and death) that Ruth was driven to migrate across the border from Moab to Israel with Naomi, her mother-in-law. I believe Boaz did the appropriate thing when he helped Ruth and finally married her, the foreigner. Boaz respected the Law, to be sure, but he understood that compassion takes precedence over Law.
While Ruth was not technically an “illegal immigrant” in the exact way that we view it today, it is not difficult to understand that other Israelite men would have considered her “illegal” and would have denied her the help and compassion that she needed. Those Israelite men would probably quote the Law at Exo 23:33 “Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” But our hero Boaz understood the heart of God and knew that sometimes love and respect are more important than the established law.
At the judgment Jesus will say, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:35)
Obedient Christians “welcome the foreigner” and show hospitality to strangers (Heb. 13:2). We give food, drink and shelter to them (not just the legal ones). If a law forbids that we “harbor” illegal foreigners, shouldn’t compassion take precedence over the law of the land? When alien children became illegal in Egypt, Hebrew midwives practiced civil disobedience and gave Hebrew babies sanctuary (Exodus 1:15-22).
Remember also that many people who are considered illegal in this country are fellow believers in Christ who have come here to escape economic hardship (like Ruth did before she met Boaz). What would you do if you were in their situation?
To be sure, there are complicated issues with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. I realize that a lot of discussion about this topic is merely partisan politics. It may take awhile for us to figure out the most humane way to solve the problem.
So what do we do? Do we obey the law of the land or do we practice human compassion?
One final thought:
All citizens in the Kingdom of God are illegal aliens. We never had to stand in line or work to get the necessary citizenship papers and we don’t have a green card that proves we deserve to be in God’s kingdom. It is by the grace of God that Jesus granted us amnesty through his death on the cross. We didn’t earn the right to be a citizen, nor were we physically born into the Kingdom. When I realize this basic gospel fact, my comprehension of the Bible’s teaching of “welcoming the alien” (legal or not) is enhanced. I understand better the heart of God. This character of God should help us in our understanding of undocumented aliens today.