Outside the Camp

Outside the Camp November 8, 2018

Since the mid-terms are over, we probably won’t hear much more about the caravan of non-white people headed north from Central America.  But we still need to address their treatment as pawns by a morally challenged President, who used them to inflame the worst angels of his supporters’ nature.  Instead, to counter, let us consider a Christian view of their plight.

First, as to this talk of borders and walls, there is an ignorant meme out there claiming heaven has borders and an immigration policy, while hell does not.  And yes, I get they are trying to be clever, and not attempting some profound theological assertion, but, still, what utter nonsense.  Whatever thought process was behind this meme, it is something only the most biblically illiterate person could come up with.  It is mind numbing in its lack of theological accuracy, its mean-spirited ignorance, and its shallow willingness to view Scripture through a nationalistic lens rather than the other way around.

Heaven and hell are not locations in time and space, and therefore have no analogous similarity to national, physical borders, created by history and fiat; but, rather the locations of our hearts in response to the love of Jesus.  Heaven and hell have much more to do with our hearts’ proximity to Jesus, the one who knows no borders or walls, than they do with any boundary, imagined or otherwise.

Someone might say, “but what about the New Jerusalem in Revelation (Rev 21), the city that comes down to the new earth, it has walls.”  First of all, whether this is an actual future physical city or a vision representing the new creation, the fact it has walls doesn’t mean they represent a restrictive or protective purpose.  Why, after evil has been vanquished, and new creation, would there be a need for protection or exclusion?  Protection from what?  The need to exclude whom?  That makes no sense.

So, whether these walls are physical in the future or metaphorical, they do not serve the purpose walls were constructed to serve when creation was still fallen.  Further, it is also possible the vision of this city contains walls simply because such is how those to whom the vision was given, would understand a city to look, in general, as it is similar to other ancient cities of which they were familiar.

More importantly, if we read further on, we are told:

“By [the city’s] light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there…”-Rev 21:24

This city is always open.  Who cares if there are walls if the gates, the points of entry, are always open.  The idea that heaven is bounded, closed, while hell is wide open is a matter of reading into Scripture, reading through a modern nationalistic lens, rather than a serious attempt of biblical or theological reflection.

And if people mean we can only get into heaven if we hold to their precise method and formula, their specific understanding of how to be saved, and thus there is a strict “vetting” policy, then they can congratulate themselves for being good pharisees but poor theologians.  The pharisees were also enthusiastic wall builders when it came to how and who could be saved.  Rather:

“…and through him [Jesus] God was please to reconcile to himself all things [emphasis added], whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross…”-Col 1:20

“…For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…”-Eph 2:14

“…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”-Gal 3:28

Every physical or metaphorical wall needs to be understood in the light of those verses.

Christians should view the people of the earth as their brothers and sisters, whether formalized through baptism, or simply as estranged family for now.  The moment we make our own nation, tribe, ethnicity, or citizens, to be who we primarily identify with, over and against those outside our camp, is the same moment we refuse to identify with Jesus.

In Hebrews 13, we read:

“Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.  Let us then go outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.”

Whatever camp, or city, or state, we belong to by birth or choice, always know that Jesus still remains, “outside” our camp, outside our city gates.  He remains with those who find themselves also, outside the camp and city gates.  The location of his death, and what that means, remains until creation is restored.  He is forever, “outside the camp,” until the consummation of the ages.

We read on:

“For here, we have no lasting city but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

This city to come is the one whose gates will never be shut.  While creation is still fallen, to identify with Jesus, to follow Jesus, is to be willing to go, always, “outside the camp.”  Jesus is with those in exile, the refugee, the immigrant, the stranger and any others who are also, “outside the camp.”

And to those who ask, “Aren’t walls important in Nehemiah,” I would respond, it depends, but regardless, Jesus is still outside those walls as well.  In a fallen world, even if the walls need to be repaired, we are still directed to go, “outside the camp.”

Finally, we read:

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

So, white evangelical Christian, or any Christian who looks with fear, anger, or even hatred toward those who caravan toward our border: That is Jesus coming with them—that is Jesus reflected in those faces.

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