STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND By R. Herbert, March 16, 2014
The title of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land is reportedly an allusion to Exodus 2:22 where Moses says “… I have been a stranger in a strange land,” but the title also brings to mind the statement that Abraham sojourned “like a stranger in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9). Either way, it’s a concept that doubly applies to the Christian walk. Once a person’s outlook and way of life changes to God’s way, two significant things may happen.
First, if we are new to the faith and have not come to the knowledge through family or friends, we often become a “stranger” to friends, relatives, and others who may have known us for a long time. For some people, this change is dramatic. As the apostle Peter wrote, “… they think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4 KJV). But even for most of us, our friends notice (or should) changes in our lives, and it becomes clear that we’re not the same person they knew before. This doesn’t mean that we need reject or turn from our old friends. As long as they are not trying to get us to return to our old ways, we can perhaps become better friends to them - and, if possible, a “light” in their worlds. Very often, however, our old friends may feel they have lost what they had in common with us and turn away.
The other thing that often occurs is that as we grow in God’s way, our old way of living seems increasingly alien and our old lives and world seem like a “strange land” to us – a land from which we feel increasingly distant.
So, the changes that happen to us can make for a disconnected feeling for us and for others. But we can be encouraged. It has always been that way for those whom God calls. After listing many great servants of God, the Book of Hebrews tells us: “All these people …[admitted] that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Paul also reminds us that we now have a new citizenship and relationships through Christ: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:18-19). Notice the duality here. We are no longer foreigners from a different land or strangers from a different group of people. This is an important thing for all who are new to the faith to remember. Although we may still feel like “strangers” in our old “strange land,” we now have a place in a new land (of which we are “citizens”) and a new family (the Greek word oikeioi “household” also signifies a family – as we see in Galatians 6:10: “… those who belong to the family of believers”).
Simply put, God makes us citizens in a new “land,” a Kingdom in which we are not strangers anymore, along with making us part of a new family. Although we still keep our old citizenship and family, of course, we gain new friends and new family on a spiritual level. So if you don’t already have fellowship with those of like mind, be sure to seek it out where possible. We are called not to lead our lives in isolation, but to be “fellow citizens” so we can encourage and help each other.
If we do already have fellowship with others in the Way, we should appreciate the fact that we are no longer strangers in a strange land; but we have a responsibility here also. God’s word gave clear instructions for the acceptance and treatment of strangers and sojourners In ancient Israel. Strangers were to be accepted into the congregation and treated exactly as anyone else, both legally and religiously (see Exodus 12:48-49, Leviticus 17:8 for examples). Surely, the same principles apply to spiritual Israel, and we should be careful to accept newcomers despite their differences. Strangers are, almost by definition, different from us. We may not recognize their clothing styles, accents, or even some of their behavior patterns because they are from a different background. Yet we can, and should, accept and encourage them and bear with them as they go through the process of acculturation to their new ”congregation.”
There is one biblical verse which seems to say it all in this respect. Deuteronomy 10: 19 tells us: “You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” It would be hard to be clearer on this point. Not only did many of us once feel like strangers after conversion, but also we should love and help those who are only now beginning to make the transition to a new “land.” And, as for how we treat those new to the faith, Paul shows us that we should welcome them fully: “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:13). The Book of Hebrews also notes: “ Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Angels or not, the spiritual newcomer qualifies as a stranger among us and, Deuteronomy says, we should do everything within our power to “love the stranger” and recognize him or her as someone just like those of us who were also once strangers in a strange land.