Monday, September 19, 2011

Simple Is Best, But Simple Is Hard

I love the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-19a). There are so many different things being communicated to us in that lesson. For starters, we see a foreign general of significant power being healed by the God of Israel—no insignificant feat. By the end of the story, Naaman acknowledges that there is no other god in all the world except the God of Israel. His is a total conversion that we should admire. We also read a story of great humility—how Naaman is forced to obey the simple instructions of God’s prophet rather than follow his own path. But the aspect that hit me this morning is the straightforwardness of God’s plan.

Naaman is a leper. Despite all his accomplishments, he remains a social pariah. Imagine being an A-list celebrity who has a contagious disease that means you can’t come within 10 yards of another human being. Basically, he had control over everything…except his own health. Kind of ironic, huh? And, as “chance” would have it, a servant in his master’s house was an Israelite woman, who recommended that he go and see Elisha. So, having received permission for the journey, Naaman sets off with a truck-load of wealth. (At today’s silver price of $39.30/oz, the ten talents of silver alone are worth $429,843.75). He makes his way to Israel, and, after a brief meeting with the king, finds himself at Elisha’s house.

The fact that Naaman has brought all of this wealth should suggest to us that he is taking this encounter pretty seriously. He’s willing to do just about anything to be cured of his leprosy. So, when Elisha refuses even to see him and instead sends word that Naaman should dip himself in the Jordan River seven times, Naaman gets pretty angry. Before he storms off, his servant offers a word of wisdom: “You’ve come all this way. Why not try what the holy man said to do?” Naturally, when he does, he is healed, and his dramatic conversion follows.

How often do we ask God for something only to refuse to believe how simple the answer might be? “God, I’m in a real pickle here. Tell me what to do.” The answer is usually the same, “Trust me. I’ll take care of you.” But that’s often the hardest thing for us to hear. Trusting isn’t doing—or so it seems in our moment of crisis. I want to be active. I want to manufacture my own relief. But God won’t let it happen that way. He just wants us to trust him—to trust that things will work out right. But I have such a hard time doing that.

Naaman’s message to me is that God’s salvation is usually easier and more straightforward than I want it to be. I want to be saved on my own terms. “Surely it must be more difficult than that!” But God always says, “No, all you have to do is trust me.” Grace is free, but the fact that it’s free makes is hard to accept.

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