Saturday, January 5, 2013

Theology from a leper...

We've just about worn this one out...
     This is a great tidbit from, of all places, the "Read with me Bible"; we also have a slightly more advanced "The Children's Bible", which was mine when a wee lad many years ago, and it has been passed down to my own wee daughter. We were reading this morning the account of Naaman... I assume you have the actual text available, so take a gander at the way this book paraphrases the Scripture:
"But Naaman said, "I thought he would pray to the Lord. I thought he would wave his hand over my skin. Then I would be healed." So he went away burning with anger. Naaman's servants said "What if Elisha had told you to do some great thing? Wouldn't you have done it? But he only said "Wash yourself." You should be even more willing to do that!" So Naaman went to the Jordan. He dipped himself in it seven times. His skin became clean like the skin of a young boy. Naaman went and stood in front of Elisha. He said, "Now I know that there is no God in the whole world except in Israel."
     I know there are many dangers in eisegeting ("reading into") theology into O.T. narratives... but some instances are just so clear, you can't help but make the link.  Like 1 Sam 5 and how the ark foreshadows Christ, victorious in defeat (at least Jonathan Edwards thought it clear!).  So Naaman comes to Israel to find healing (a type of salvation), and expects to be treated as the great man he is;  no doubt he was thinking himself worthy of slaying a local dragon, finding the holy grail (which would be difficult before Christ!), or some other impossible task... then his deserved reward would be the medical miracle he desired.  But he was quite put out to find Elisha didn't need him to do anything;  no military success, strength of arms or any such feat fitting for such a mighty general.  Instead, Naaman was told to do something my daughter could do, to just take a dip in the river and slough off his sickness like road dirt. 
     So not only is this remedy offensive in its ease, but it defies belief:  Naaman had no doubt tried any other number of healers, shamans, witch doctors and the like, presumably all outfitted with outlandish folk cures, bizarre and mysterious.  It makes perfect sense to many (even today) that a boiled concoction of frog eyes and birch root can heal, but a bath with river water?  Wouldn't everyone be healed then if it was just so easy?  So what we must read into the story here (not too big of a stretch!) is the distinction between Naaman and every other sick peasant along the banks of the Jordan:  a message from God and the heart attitude required for healing;  Naaman would only go to the Jordan if he truly believed that obeying the word of the Lord would be effective.  Then what seemed laughably ridiculous would become Naaman's salvation.
     I hope you've made the N.T. jump already:  so many hear the gospel and say "Wait... a murderer on death row, hours from the electric chair, can repent and believe in Christ and then the next day be in heaven?  Nonsense!"  We want a salvation that we can earn, that is a reward for the deserving and is a testament to our own prowess and virtue.  But God wants or needs nothing from us... everything we could offer is putrid in His sight.  He simply says ""Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isa 55:1)  I guess a good N.T. equivalent to this narrative would be Luke 17:12-14.  The lepers were told to go and show themselves to the priests, but their skin was still filthy!  Their flesh was still utterly diseased, but we're told that "as they went they were cleansed."  Only when we take God at His word, when He grants us the faith to trust His simple word (that often contradicts our best wisdom), then we are saved and healed.

Photos courtesy of Amazon and Thomas Hawk

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