I read the story of Naaman from 2 Kings 5 last week and have been thinking about it ever since.
Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army in the 8th century BC who had much success as a military leader until he contracted leprosy. While still suffering from that affliction, a young Israelite girl came into Syria as a prisoner of war and told the Syrians about the prophet Elisha, who God had been using to heal many sick people.
Eventually, Elisha was contacted by the Syrians and sent a messenger to Naaman, telling him to wash in the Jordan River seven times in order to be healed. Incredibly, Naaman at first refused to obey the order; instead, he got angry that Elisha didn’t come to him in person to heal him in the name of God. He reasoned that there was nothing special about the Jordan River and decided not to go.
After a while, some of Naaman’s servants convinced him to do what the messenger had said. 2 Kings 5:14, says, “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little girl, and he was clean.”
Why wouldn’t Naaman immediately set out to the Jordan River upon hearing the orders of the Lord? Might have been that he was lazy. Might have been that he was arrogant. Mostly, though, I think it was because Naaman expected God to heal him in a very specific way, and when He didn’t, Naaman bristled. He said, “Surely God wouldn’t do it this way,” or, “This way seems too hard,” or, “Why in the world does God expect me to do that?”
In Naaman’s mind, God could only, would only, should only do it the way Naaman thought He should do it. A century later, the prophet Isaiah would pen his famous words about God’s ways being higher than our ways — maybe he had Naaman in mind when he wrote them!
Our tendency can be to think like Naaman thought. We have an idea about how God should operate in our lives and when he doesn’t, we doubt Him or get frustrated with him or question him. We say we believe that his ways are greater than ours, but when the job we wanted doesn’t pan out or when no one comes to the event we’d prayerfully planned or when the healing doesn’t come quickly enough (or ever), we tend to walk in the flesh, not in the Spirit. We tend to look at things from our flawed human perspective, not God’s perfect vantage point.
Fortunately for us, God is very patient with his children. He doesn’t withhold his blessings just because we fail to grasp them at first. He allows us to wander a bit, to stray from the path, often so that we can learn a lesson, and then he reels us back in and still gives us good things.
In Naaman’s case, he could have said, “Well, if you’re going to act like that, I change my mind. You can keep the leprosy!” Naaman wasn’t even an Israelite, so what did God owe him anyway? God didn’t go back on his promise, however. Once Naaman did what he was commanded to do, God then did what he had said he’d do — he healed him.
I once heard a preacher tell a crowd he had just met, “I don’t know any of you personally, but I know this about every one of you- your lives have not turned out the way you thought they would.”
It’s true, none of us have the lives we thought we’d have when we were younger. And God hasn’t always acted in our lives in the ways we thought he would. He has allowed heartache where we think he shouldn’t have. He’s allowed us to lose things that we think he should have let us keep. He has allowed others to flourish in instances where we think he should have let us flourish.
Yes, there are many things God has done and still does in our lives that we don’t understand. He knows a whole lot better than we do, though, and, indeed, his ways are better.
When we trust him, our lives won’t always make sense, but they will bring God glory and will be the best for us. Just ask Naaman.