The Nation and the Bible

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My good good friend at First Issues, editor R.R. Reno, ruminates on this month’s print situation on “Christian Universalism and the Nation.” In opposition to Christians who make too simple a leap from the universalism of the Christian church to successfully borderless nations—a camp that features some Catholic bishops in addition to some evangelicals—Reno writes “we’d like higher theology.” He sketches this utilizing a number of propositions.

Reno’s predominant thrust is that exact loves, akin to love for household, neighbors, and fellow residents, are the first means by which God extends his providential look after humanity. I’ve argued equally elsewhere. But there are some curious gaps in Reno’s sketch of a “higher theology.”

The Scriptures embrace (at the least) three sign occasions essential to sketching nationhood in a Biblical key. They’re the frequent possession of the earth, the creation of the nations at Babel, and the calling of Abraham instantly after Babel. Points of those occasions minimize in favor of a few of Reno’s claims in addition to towards a few of them.

First, God gave the earth to humanity normally to supply for our wants (Psalm 115.16, Genesis 1.26-30, 9.three, and so forth.). This and God’s providential superintendence entails the so-called common vacation spot of the earth and its items (1 Chronicles 29.12,14, Deuteronomy eight.17-18, Psalm 24.1, and so forth.).

Whereas sounding vaguely socialistic, it’s not. Non-public property, households, nations and others are particularistic means by which humanity makes use of its frequent possession, and the first means by which individuals produce and distribute items. The teachings function extra as a reserve clause figuring out the needs that issues like non-public property and nationwide sovereignty should serve. These items should be prudentially modified if they don’t serve the needs for which they have been created.

The implications of the frequent possession of the earth are too huge to debate in any depth right here. One implication to notice, nevertheless. St. Paul notes in his speak on the Areopagus that nationwide borders are issues of God’s will, answering his providential functions (Acts eight.26). God is the one who’s finally sovereign over nationwide borders, not nations.

This doesn’t imply that nationwide borders are or must be solely permeable to cross-national motion. Nationwide authorities, nevertheless, reply to the next energy. Importantly, the explanation individuals might must cross nationwide borders is a crucial consideration of their permeability. Political theorists like Hugo Grotius (features of which I talk about right here, right here, and right here) and Mathias Risse, who develops a secular line of reasoning premised on frequent possession of the earth, contemplate the completely different implications for the permeability of nationwide borders primarily based on various kinds of claims.

For instance, Grotius attracts on occasions within the ebook of Numbers to debate the appropriate to cross by way of a nation. In chapter 22 (verses 22-24) Moses asks Sihon, King of the Amorites, for permission for Israel merely to cross by way of the land. Sihon refuses, and Israel enforces her proper of passage by going to battle. Israel subsequently passes by way of Bashan and Moab. Curiously, nevertheless, earlier, when the King of Edom refused permission to Israel, Moses merely turned Israel away. (Maybe Edom was too robust for Israel efficiently to struggle, Luke 13.41.)

Whereas the frequent possession of the earth may auger extra for cosmopolitanism than nationalism, the subsequent occasion within the Bible provides extra proof to assist nationalism than cosmopolitanism. But, it’s a unfavorable argument for nationhood, which can clarify why nationalist Christians appears studiously to disregard it.

Within the Bible’s story of the tower of Babel, a unified, monoglot humanity seeks to pierce the firmament and storm God’s throne room. In doing so humanity replicates the Unique Sin, looking for to dethrone God and enthrone itself as King. In judgment, God divides humanity into completely different tongues and nations or household teams.

This occasion of the creation of the nations, narrated in chapters 10 and 11 within the ebook of Genesis, can’t be mentioned individually from God’s calling of Abraham (Abram on the time) instantly afterwards, in chapter 12. God’s calling of Abram is his response to the judgment at Babel. God divides humanity into “nations” or ”households” at Babel—each phrases are used (Genesis 10.5, 16, 20, 31-32). But by way of Abram, God will bless the very households he simply judged in chapters 10 and 11. Simply three verses into the subsequent chapter, God tells Abram that “in you all of the households of the earth will likely be blessed” (Genesis 12.three).

God creates a unique sort of nation out of Abraham than he created at Babel. The variations are instructive.

The Babelian nations are prolonged households or clans. Their identities are shaped primarily by blood. Not so with Israel. Blood relation with Abraham (or, finally, with Jacob) is neither a needed nor a enough situation for nationwide membership in Israel. What makes an Israelite is covenant membership alone. That is indicated (for males) by circumcision. A person who’s biologically descended from Abraham but who doesn’t bear the covenant signal is “minimize off” from the nation (Genesis 17.14). Equally, a person who was not biologically associated to Abraham (or Jacob), when circumcised, would turn out to be “as a local of the land” (Ex 12.48). Certainly, from the very begin, the overwhelming majority of these circumcised weren’t blood relations of Abraham (Genesis 17.12, 14.14).

Within the biblical narrative, Gentile nations have been outlined round household or blood, the nation of Israel was outlined round covenant. Membership in Israel, with few exceptions (Deuteronomy 23.three), was a biologically open nation through which Gentiles, with receipt of the covenant signal, would turn out to be as “natives of the land.”

Reno writes, “The nation is a political group, a lifestyle in accord with shared loves, not a clan sure by blood.” By Reno’s definition, Israel was the primary distinctively fashionable nation within the Bible. Whereas particularistic, Israel additionally had universalistic mission to “bless the households of the earth.” She would do that by drawing the nations to the one God.

Due to this mission, the nation of Israel accorded a elementary equality to non-Israelite aliens (“the stranger who resides with you shall be to you because the native amongst you, and also you shall love him as your self” Leviticus 19.34). But whereas rigorous equality was required, usually ignored by Christians pointing to those legal guidelines of hospitality is that the regulation additionally allowed substantial distinctions between natives and aliens in Israel.

What mattered in Israel was allegiance to YHWH. Whereas this was Israel’s universalistic mission, it was additionally her particularistic aspiration. Whereas Mosaic regulation required that aliens and strangers be handled equally earlier than the regulation, and Israelites had an obligation to like the alien as they beloved themselves, as a result of Israel was a group shaped by and round YHWH, aliens couldn’t totally be members of Israel, culturally, economically, or politically, with out conversion or assimilation.

Regardless of the legal guidelines requiring Israelites to succor aliens (Deuteronomy 24.19-21, and and so forth.), aliens nonetheless couldn’t personal land in Israel (Leviticus 23.25) and might be charged curiosity on loans (Deuteronomy 23.20). Aliens may promote themselves completely into slavery, one thing prohibited to Israelites (Exodus 21.2). Whereas aliens weren’t required to profess YHWH as their very own God, even whereas dwelling in Israel, they nonetheless wanted to keep away from non secular practices that will be inconsistent with the nation’s Yahwist tradition (Leviticus 16.29, 17.12, and so forth.). Aliens, nevertheless, have been allowed to sacrifice to YHWH (Numbers 15.14) and have been invited to wish to YHWH (2 Chronicles 6.32-33).

There’s a theological and a political upshot to all of this. First, theologically, Reno just about will get backward the image of the gathering of the nations in Revelation 7 and the imaginative and prescient in Isaiah 49. Each footage immediately recommend the motion of the nations from Babelian separation to a unity restored by and beneath the one Davidic king. To make certain, these are footage totally realized solely within the age to return. Nonetheless, even because the nations and their kings convey their distinctive splendor and wealth into the age to return (Revelation 21.24, 26), their distinctive cultural inheritances are supplied as much as the King of Kings—that’s, neither deserted nor subsumed in new metropolis. The main focus of those footage is just not of no matter a part of nationwide identification continues into the age to return, however the summing up of these identities, such that, as St. Paul writes, “there isn’t a longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free” (Colossians three.11). Babel reversed.

The political implications are extra sophisticated. On the one hand, the Bible teaches first that God, and never the nations, is sovereign over nationwide borders. Then again, hospitality towards aliens—a elementary requirement to like the alien as oneself—coexisted together with social, political, and financial limitations on aliens in Israel. These limitations aimed to assist and shield Israel’s elementary allegiance to YHWH. This allegiance, not blood, was Israel’s distinctive trait amongst nations early within the Bible. Nationwide membership was open to those that needed to transform and assimilate.

But assimilation is prime. And right here, I feel, is a political implication from the Bible even Reno may endorse: In historical Israel there was content material really to assimilate to. However what about the united statestoday? A lot of the opposition to immigration right this moment derives not from the energy of recent American identification, however from its weak spot. Affirmation of autonomy requires no assimilation; it’s the rejection of assimilation. The irony is that a thicker American tradition—and faith is the center of tradition—may really be much less threatened by, and therefore extra welcoming of, immigrants than right this moment’s affirmation of an empty middle.

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