When there are armed killers in the street and you’re running for your life, where can you hide? When the country you grew up in is no longer safe, when masked men with militant ideologies are massacring the people you love, how will you react? When your children don’t have enough to eat and the bombs are falling, where do you go?
These are not hypothetical questions. For the millions of Syrians who have been forced to abandon their homes and risk their lives seeking refuge abroad, this is daily life. In these circumstances, there are no good alternatives. Will you stay and face the guns and bombs? Or will you risk the uncertainty of ocean crossings, international borders, and weeks of walking in the baking sun, carrying your children in your arms?
People across America are afraid. We’re anxious that terrorists may find a way to sneak into the United States and carry out mass murders like in Paris. Politicians are calling for a beefed up military response to ISIS. Many governors are saying that we should keep refugees out of the United States; welcoming them would just be too dangerous.
I was astonished by a quote published in The Washington Post, talking about the intense fear that many in our country are feeling: “I have never been fearful of anything in my life because I put my faith in God,” said Kathleen Jones, 58, a vice president at a medical equipment company. “But I went out this week and bought a pistol.”
It took my breath away when I read these lines. What is it about the terror attacks in Paris that made Ms. Jones feel that she could no longer rely on God? Is ISIS so strong and God so weak that now, after 58 years of faith, she needs a pistol to protect herself?
Then I got to thinking about Jesus’ story of the two men building houses. One built his house on top of the sand, while another built his on the rock. When a big storm came, the house with a sandy foundation was washed away, but the house with a foundation on the rock was able to withstand the storm.
The kind of fear on display in America today reveals that many of us have built our homes on a sandy foundation. It’s easy to talk about love, peace, and forgiveness when you’re doing well and no one is threatening you. But your real convictions are revealed when the storm comes.
The storm arrived a long time ago for the people of Syria. As we speak, they are begging for sanctuary in our country. Violence and terror has driven them out of everything they’ve ever known, exposing their families to unthinkable dangers. Their displacement, their need for help is obvious for anyone to see. Are we willing to see?
We wanted to believe that we were kind, loving people. And it was easy as long as nothing was at stake. But then Paris happened. Now we fear that God might not protect us after all. Now we’re ready to buy a gun and lock the door. We’re willing to tell millions of people, fleeing with their families from the devastation that ISIS has wrought, that they’re not welcome. They might be dangerous. Better safe than sorry.
These are the thoughts and reactions of a people whose house is built upon the sand. Such beach combers are scattered and fearful in the face of danger. They fall easy prey to deceitful leaders who would use our terrified confusion to enslave us, and attack those who are most vulnerable. This is how tyranny is born; it is on sandy ground that atrocity is birthed.
What are you afraid of? Do you fear the huddled masses from Syria, looking for room at the inn? Or do you fear the moral consequences of turning away families that in so many ways resemble the holy family of Jesus Christ in that ancient Christmas story?
It is in times like these that our faith really matters. Where have you placed your trust? What is your foundation? I pray that each one of us will take this critical moment in our history as an opportunity to re-commit ourselves to rock of the gospel, which is good news to everyone who is desperate and looking for help.