“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Wait a minute, upright from Uz? Here we have one of the fundamental ideas of the Bible. Origin and background are not a prerequisite of righteousness. Job was not a Hebrew, but he was nonetheless pleasing to God. The New Testament re-emphasises this idea in Paul’s charge to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 NIV)”
We however, often suffer from a religious xenophobia. We distrust that which is unfamiliar. I recently had a conversation in which the person I was talking saw the use of Arabic as divisive. The suggestion was that Arabs and Arabic-speakers were agents of militant Islam. How then can we reconcile such a view with the fact that the Syrian refugees who sparked the conversation were Christians who had fled Damascus.
The suspicion of difference therefore blinds us. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not in any way denying the centrality of Jesus in the plan of salvation or challenging people to dabble is Eastern mysticism. Rather, I am saying that salvation is open to all – Jew and Greek; Spaniard and Turk; American and Pole. What is at issue here is whether one follows God’s path or not. Yet we seem to forget this, and sometimes get obsessed with our “us and them” scenarios. We focus on what divides us, not what we share.
There is a similar us and them when it comes to what we see as our Christian heritage. Do we get so caught up in our own denominational and sectarian stances, that we miss this essential truth, that Christ died for all sinners – including me and you? Backgrounds are interesting, but not a measure of worthiness. Just remember for every Saul of Tarsus with his immaculate religious pedigree, there are a score of Simon Peters expressing their roots in a humble “”Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! (Luke 5:8 NIV)”
What God wants from us is not an unbroken ancestry of Bible thumping evangelists, but a self- willingness to follow Him. Like another famous religious outsider who said to her mother-in-law: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 NIV).” Jesus said simply “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NASB)” No one is a real outsider in the Lord.