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The rising tensions surrounding the immigration crisis are once again placing front and center the issue of just how tenuous is the balance between the principles of justice and compassion. The reality is that one is impossible without the other, yet we constantly try to separate them.

For example, the “law and order” mindset says that if you broke the law to get here and have likely broken numerous laws while here, you have no right to stay, nor any children you brought or bore here.

Contrarily, the “compassionate” mindset says that these are all real humans who deserve to be treated with dignity and that we cannot just lock up or ship out those here illegally.

Some on both sides are right; some on both sides are wrong.

First, it is self-evident that no home, neighborhood, city, society or nation can long survive without operating under the respect for the rule of law that protects the life, liberty and property of every innocent citizen under its jurisdiction. The primary restraint that preserves the greatest freedom for the most people exists in the heart of the individual that is grounded in the acknowledgment of a personal, caring and just God.

If I assume that my every thought, every action and every word are going to be one day replayed before a righteous and holy God to weigh on His scales for my “reward,” you can guarantee it will give me pause on all three fronts.

As I explained to my son, who like thousands of others returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is wrestling with the demons of combat trauma and guilt of having had to kill, they have not committed murder. If he took a life in the performance of his duties under legitimate authority in a justified context of war, that is clearly not in violation of either God’s or man’s laws.

However, the rage and hatred that develops for “the enemy” because of the unthinkable acts and atrocities they witnessed lead them to a condition of murder even without taking life. Are you confused? Listen to the words of Jesus Christ:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ”YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

– Matthew 5:21, 22 NASB

Similarly, if our frustration with the inaction of our government on immigration turns to anger and even hatred of any who have come here illegally, we are now in danger ourselves.

Our Lord raised the bar beyond our actions to even hold us accountable for the condition of our soul, which, as we are reminded, is the spring out of which our thoughts and actions flow. If our mind, will and emotions are driven by something other than love of and loyalty to God and His commandments, we will ultimately be driven by self-interest.

Both sides of the immigration debate have significant elements of self-interest involved, not all of which is wrong or even unlawful. It is not wrong to desire what is best for my family’s care and even survival; it is almost always wrong to break laws to achieve it.

It is also not wrong to want safety, security and blessings for my family that cause me to insist that people be kept out of this country who live outside the laws I must obey and who demand that I surrender property, income and freedom to accommodate them. It is wrong, however to avoid taking responsibility for being apathetic toward the inhumanity of a broken immigration system, unjust and corrupt policies of our government that harm many people, and even for our own love of cheap goods and labor.

I have spoken with Hispanic pastors in many cities – essentially all who are legal immigrants – and they are firmly committed to enforcement of immigration laws but are also torn by the human face on the issue they see every Sunday.

The families and children of illegal immigrants are now so interwoven in our society because of our years of inaction that we simply cannot expect a simple solution that makes everyone happy.

What I do believe is that immigration reform should be off the table until those clamoring for it the loudest first commit to closing and securing our borders to the fullest extent of our ability. Build fences and/or walls, tear down walk bridges, take down steps, place National Guard – or even better, U.S. Marines – on the border; whatever it takes.

Once that is accomplished, we must deal with the terribly dysfunctional immigration and guest-worker process that once worked but now allows terrorists in and keeps out solid, educated and professional would-be citizens who would be an asset to this nation.

Finally, we must remember some simple, common-sense principles that balance justice and compassion on this issue:

Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry; but when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house.

– Proverbs 6:30, 31 NASB

Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

– Exodus 22:21 NIV

If you have broken the law, it must be made right. If you are working to change or enforce the law, keep mindful of your mind and motives so we can balance justice and compassion.

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