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I’ve always been struck by the ascription of philanthropia to God in Titus 3:4. God is a lover of humanity. Philanthropia is also closely associated with humanitas , as Jerome understood when he employed the Latin term in his translation of the verse. God’s love for humanity is an expression of a genuine humanism, the humanism of God. This lavish claim fits well with what is said in Titus 2 that the “grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all humanity” (v. 11). It is difficult to escape the universality of this humanism as nothing less than the appearance of a grace for all . It echoes the Johannine declaration that “for God so loved he gave.”

Moreover, there is a close relationship between being a lover of humanity and practicing hospitality as a manifestation of love for the stranger or alien ( philoxenias ). We are admonished to love the stranger in Hebrews 13:2 just shortly after the exhortation to love one’s fellow believers ( philadelphia ). The author of 1 Clement (10-12) constructs a cloud of witnesses around hospitality, noting that Abraham was called “the friend” ( ho philos ) because of his hospitality and faith. Grounded in the hospitality Abraham gave to the three visitors, Rublev’s great icon of the Trinity beautifully captures God’s humanism and hospitality.

These ideas come to mind when I think about the evangelicos who cross the Sonoran Desert in shirts emblazoned with the words resucito , or Catholics who journey with prayer cards and rosaries in hand.  The church’s mission in the world is both a form of humanism and an extension of hospitality. It also reminds us that the church approaches civil laws that govern societies in light of its understanding of the God who stands behind creation and redemption.

Given the doctrine of creation, Christians have always respected the rule of law where law refers not primarily to civil laws, but to the eternal law. Apologists like Justin Martyr and Lactantius argued that Christians were good citizens despite the fact that they could not comply with certain Roman statutes meant to require cultural assimilation. The basis for such a claim rested upon their following the law that stands behind all civil laws and finds its ground in God alone. Christians shared this perspective with philosophers like Cicero who had argued that civil laws must be weighed against the eternal law in his De Legibus , from which Augustine himself borrowed when he differentiated the eternal law from temporal laws in De Libero Arbitrio .

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this point when he gave the Christian rationale in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

The doctrine of redemption completes this approach. A Christus victor understanding of the atoning work of Christ suggests that Jesus, the embodiment of divine justice, conquered the forces of chaos who sought to rupture divine shalom. In Christ’s death and resurrection justice vindicated the divine order for creation, satisfying the demand that humans restore that order and fulfill their divinely-given vocation to flourish through living just lives. Justice, for Anselm, is about fittingness, restoring the correspondences and harmonies between divine order and created order. This is the force of his “doing enough” argument.

Together creation and redemption sing out in praise to the God whose love for humanity knows no bounds. This God established a divine order for the world and restored that order by conquering the powers that sought to annihilate it once and for all on the cross. As Aquinas understood, when Christians refer to the rule of law, they call humanity back to the divine order to which the term law ultimately points.

This same appeal to an eternal law woven into the fabric of nature finds its counterpart both in the Declaration of Independence’s grounding of government in the recognition of pre-political rights (e.g., life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) and the Constitution’s granting to Congress the power to define and punish offenses against the laws of nations. Following writers like Hugo Grotius and Emmerich de Vattel, most Founding Fathers such as Madison and Hamilton recognized the natural law as standing behind the laws of nations. Moreover, it was on the basis of such a law that arguments were made by Samuel Rutherford, whom many Founding Fathers read, in support of overthrowing monarchical rule. Rutherford thought of Romans 13 as merely a theoretical commitment to government that did not require persons to be committed to any particular government or form of government.

How could one square such an extreme event as the American Revolution with respect for law apart from an appeal to a divine law enshrined in nature that superseded all civil laws and before which even unjust monarchs must give way? To put it in biblical terms, John’s utilizing the images of a beast from the sea, a beast from the land, and a great harlot to symbolize the imperial authority and economic allure of Rome in the post-Neronian era leavens any appeal to Romans 13, which was written before Nero unjustly martyred Christians, and Vespasian, following him, leveled Jerusalem.

The prudential considerations surrounding immigration are indeed complex, requiring, at a minimum, that we examine push/pull factors in immigration, the history of U.S. dealings with Latin American nations as well as the current system of laws in the U.S. But the starting point should be a doctrine of creation that recognizes migration as sometimes being necessary given the failure of governments to recognize pre-political rights grounded in the Law of Nature and Nature’s God. This insight from the doctrine of creation finds its echo in the restoration of divine order and the extension of divine hospitality through the cross of Christ.

This is not a case of churches seeking to oppose a particular statute, but seeking to be faithful to the mission of extending divine hospitality and grounding their pursuit of that mission in the pre-political rights that all governments must recognize. Even as we follow Justin Martyr, who addressed the Emperor Hadrian by acknowledging a common love of culture and learning ( paideia ), we still declare that the divine philanthropia —-that humanism motivating our words and deeds—-must remain foremost when considering policies. The implications of such a position go well beyond immigration.

Articles by Dale M. Coulter

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