The Stranger and the Alien
Strangers. Foreigners. Aliens.
These words carry such negative connotations in the world of today. Nonetheless, they are roles our very own scriptures call us to embody. The alien, foreigner, and stranger are present, but not necessarily active in or committed to the surrounding world. Real-life foreigners and aliens demonstrate this tactic in the ways they choose to interact with others. While many find themselves open and eager to learn about their newfound position, a good number find themselves out of place and loyal only to the culture and the customs of their homelands.
This is what the scriptures are trying to demonstrate in passages such as 1 Peter 2. It reads, “Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.” In earthly terms, the lives of those from strikingly different cultural backgrounds are no more right or wrong than others. However, there is often an underlying sense of discomfort and fear, which sometimes leads to one abstaining from acts and traditions quite unlike their own. Christians too are called to be weary of and avoid the actions of their worldly counterparts. As a result, believers and foreigners alike must be willing to endure the rejection and judgement that occasionally comes with the collision of two distinctly separate worlds.
It is important, however, to note that cautiousness and unbelief goes both ways. Not only do foreigners and aliens tend to abstain from certain tendencies of the lives of those around them, but most native peoples additionally make an effort to stick to the cultures and traditions they have always known. Often, this level of commitment tells strangers that their ways are not welcome, and that is exactly what Peter is trying to encapsulate when he refers to Christians as exiles in verse 11. A simple definition of the term “exile” requires that an individual be cast out and/or forsaken at their current location. Typically, this is due to their actions and values not lining up with those who hold authority over them. In the same way, Christians are rejected and removed from their current location through persecution and martyrdom. When it comes down to it, this all happens because others are rarely willing to accept a faith and a lifestyle contrary to their own.
You may be getting the sense now that the world is no place for those the Bible calls its elect exiles. You are right but where does that leave a believer’s native homeland? Thankfully, we do not have to look very far. The answer is plainly provided for us in Hebrews 11:13-16:
“These all died in faith, having not received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”
If you got even the slightest bit of insight from the above passage, please let it be that God has prepared for Christians a place of their own. It is through this provision that believers can find comfort and identity in the citizenship of His heavenly realm. Building 429 sums up this idea nicely in their 2011 song, “Where I Belong.” The chorus chants the familiar words “All I know is I’m not home yet / This is not where I belong / Take this world and give me Jesus / This is not where I belong.” Recognition of true citizenship requires the adoption of such an ideology. In order to be considered spiritually foreign or one of the Bible’s elect exiles, one must first recognize the value in living apart from the place they currently call “home”. It is never easy to accept the rejection or judgement that comes one’s way because of these decisions. All in all though, it will be well worth it the day the strangers, foreigners, aliens, and exiles, can stand united among the brothers and the sisters of their homeland.