<NOTE: The image here for vulnerability, I am using as synonymous with weakness. Some don’t feel that way. For them, vulnerability is a virtue while weakness is a well… weakness. I would suggest that both, properly understood, are virtues, and… well… strengths.>
Two passages with regard to the life of Abraham are especially meaningful to me.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” -Genesis 12:1-3
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. -Hebrews 11:13-16
These passages make it clear to me that Abraham left a place he knew as home and never reached a new place he considered home. While God told him in Genesis that he would be made a great nation, the Hebrews passage makes it clear, that the concept to Abraham in no way suggested a governmental power, or a nation of possession. In fact, the only land he owned was a burial site.
Let’s consider some implications of this.
- Abraham is to be a blessing, but to be a blessing as a stranger among those who are part of the power structure.
- Abraham, and arguably Abraham’s descendants, is not presumed to “bless” from a position of power but from a position of weakness.
We struggle with this. In the book of Joshua, the descendents of Abraham (through Jacob) set up a homeland, a place of power, and were to drive out or kill those who oppose. Of course, this fact is also challenged by the Mosaic Law that stated that one should always be kind and generous to strangers, foreigners, aliens. After all, the Israelites were aliens in Egypt. (Being powerless should always inspire one to be kind and generous when one has power.) It seems that the Mosaic Law expected the long-term normal was that Israelites, descendants of Abraham, would always live with those who were not. Israel was never very good at being a blessing to those around as long as they were a political entity. They spent too much time taking care of themselves, and fighting the “enemy”– both internally and externally.
This all is relevant to us, because Jesus and the Apostles always spoke and wrote from the presupposition that Christians would always live as strangers within larger (non-Christian) communities. The assumption was that they would be salt and light to those around them. One could argue Jesus and His disciples did not foresee Osrhoene, Armenia, Roman Empire, Ethiopia, Holy Roman Empire, and the series of “Christian nations” supporting what sometimes gets called Christendom. <But Christendom is now dead… and we as Christians, I argue, should be happy with this.>
But maybe it is not about what Jesus and His disciples foresaw or did not foresee. Maybe the point is that Christians ARE SUPPOSED TO LIVE AS STRANGERS/FOREIGNERS/ALIENS IN WHATEVER LAND THEY LIVE. If that is the case, there are some things we need to consider:
- The concept of the “Christian Nation” is flawed from the start. Islam embraces earthly kingdoms, but Jesus actively rejected the concept of an earthly kingdom… both in word (My kingdom is not of this world, John 18:36), and in deed (opposing Satan’s lure to human governmental power). If other religions are seduced by this lure, that is their own call. For Christians, we should not.
- While we may grieve for the evil behaviors that we see around us, our job is to live holy lives, and generously, sacrificially, help those around us, in word and in deed. Our call is not to try to legislate conformity to Christ’s standards.
- We should show solidarity and concern for Christians who have the misfortune to live in regimes that hold to the unconscionable behavior of mistreating Christians because they have the power to do so. We should be able to have enough empathy as human beings for that. But as Christians, our empathy should be greater, and we should show real concern for minority groups among us.
- David Tracy in “Plurality and Ambiguity” notes the Religion is always meant to be revolutionary… anti- (or at least counter-) cultural. The reason is that it challenges the way things are, and points to how things are supposed to be… to challenge people to see the “Ultimate Reality” not the shallow, vilolent, self-satisfied reality around us. Once religion (Christianity especially, but others as well) assumes a mythic role (supporting culturally the status quo) it has lost its role as a religion. Thus, Christianity is not part of the State this side of Heaven.
I have lived as an alien, stranger, foreigner, in the Philippines for 11 years. Although the Philippines is a pretty friendly place… I will probably always be a bit of an outsider. That is okay. It does help me see the other side a bit. As an alien, I am weak. Living in the Philippines, I also live in a weak country overshadowed by a much stronger country.
Christians should spend time embracing weakness. Christianity has always been at its best operating from a position of weakness… rather than from a position of military, or political strength. Maybe one day we as Christians can embrace the words of St. Paul:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10