Saturday, May 2, 2009

Who’s the Alien?

Sting’s single Englishman in New York (1988) was inspired by gay eccentric Quentin Crisp’s treatment at the hands of the homophobic Britons. Sting met him after he moved from England to New York. An amazing irony; this man, an abomination to a great many so-called Christians, would have identified with the treatment of Christ perhaps more than a good many Christians. And if anyone would’ve felt like an alien it would have been Crisp.

I’m no gay-rights supporter. I’ll say that upfront. But, I do draw the ‘alien’ distinction. The sentiment of “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York,” is nothing when we consider that Crisp suffered a great degree of ostracising ignorance, but still apparently chose to smile resiliently through it (though certainly not with the perfect distinction of Jesus).

And there’s a great theological and philosophical bow that can be drawn here, to the Christian walk.

Who’s supposed to be the real alien?

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners[1] and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us”
–1 Peter 2:11-12 (TNIV).

The alien is a stranger, a sojourner, a foreigner; an exile. The alien is merely a strange person in the context of his or her present circumstances. And if they’re sojourning it’s a break or halt to their normal activity. And we’re all here (on this earth) for just a brief stay. Eternity is our real home. When we leave this earth, finally, we will leave it for good to those who remain behind; but they too will not be any more at home than we were.

The people who received 1 Peter were the equivalent of those of the persecuted church today, “sociologically, and not only spiritually, [they were] sojourners and exiles.”[2] They would have read the letter as more personally relevant than we would naturally (in our thriving ecumenical society) today.

The point is, we are not naturally predisposed to think like aliens.

In Moses’ time, there were many commands[3] on how to treat the alien, and treat them with practical love. Who’s the alien we’re to treat well--certainly with regard to the new covenant? A refugee? A gay person? Anyone out-of-place?

And so, how does God view the alien?

“The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” –Psalm 146:9 (NIV). Oh, what a defender the alien has!

The True Alien

And the real alien, certainly from Peter’s offering above, is none other than the Christian. We are to be set apart as different in our responses to life situations; our responses are to be different to that of world. When worldly people ‘malign us as evildoers’ (as they inevitably will) we are to respond in a faithful way--trusting in God’s sufficiency to watch over and sustain us--so that the worldly person may see God’s work in us, and this, glorifying and pointing to him.

If we can’t respond in a different way compared with the world, God is not glorified but vilified--and we have caused this in our hypocrisy. We are then, by our actions, not true followers.

Peter casts his eye back over Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”
–1 Peter 2:23 (TNIV).

What does it mean to you to be set apart; to live as an alien? Willing obedience to God’s true will often means turning from our own heart’s desire over to his.

We are willing slaves for God, submitting ourselves to ‘every human authority.’ And we do this so that God might be glorified as we show ourselves to be true aliens here, but home to God. And we must do this with a great deal of tenacity! So much so it is part of our daily existence.

This willed and devoted alien existence of submission, paradoxically, is the only way we can lucidly reveal God working in and through us.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] The words foreigner and alien in 1 Peter 2:11 and Psalm 146:9 are both interchangeable.
[2] David L. Bartlett, The First Letter of Peter: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 270.
[3] See for instance Leviticus 10:18-19; 19:33-34; 23:22; 25:23; 25:35; Deuteronomy 24:17-22; 27:19; 31:12 (which appears to include the aliens as part of the community).

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