Thursday, 19 June 2014

Keep it simple!

Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something really difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'?"  2 Kings 5:13

"Keep it simple!"

Have you ever been offered that advice? I'm afraid that often when we have some kind of problem we tie ourselves in knots of anxiety. If only we would calm down a little and quietly think it through we might find that it wasn't actually as difficult as we feared. Keep it simple!

This was the advice that Naaman, the commander of the army of Aram (that's Syria), needed. He was desperate for a cure for his leprosy, and was persuaded to visit the Israelite prophet Elisha who was known for his supernatural powers. He came in all his splendour and armed with fantastic sums of money. But he ended up in a rage. Why? Because, first, Elisha sent a mere servant to him instead of coming himself and performing some dramatic healing. And, second, because Elisha told him to go and wash in the River Jordan. "Huh! Doesn't he know who I am! Why doesn’t he come and produce some real fireworks? Why should I dip myself in the muddy little Jordan - aren’t our Syrian rivers far better?" He stomped off in a huff.

It was only when his servants came and had, ahem, a tactful little word with him that he realised how foolish he was, and changed his mind. And what do we read? He did the simple thing: "... he went and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became like that of a little child". Yes, you could say if you like that he ate a large helping of humble pie, and in public too. But I don't think he ever regretted it, do you? (Why not read again the whole story in 2 Kings 5?)

I think that thoughtful Christians, and especially those of an intellectual type, often find themselves walking something of a tightrope. The fact is, on the one hand, that we have to grapple with difficult and puzzling issues - the idea of the Trinity, say, or predestination, the mystery of evil and suffering, the pain of seemingly unanswered prayer, to mention just a few. And I think God does expect us to grapple with these things. He has given us minds so that we should use them.

But sometimes, on the other hand, a point comes when we have to accept that we are never going to find a clear answer to all these questions - we have reached the end of our resources. Ultimately it all boils down to faith, to simple child-like trust. This isn't being lazy; it's being realistic. But it is amazing how often that step of child-like faith leads to peace - and sometimes wonderful surprises.

I don’t know, to be honest, how true this story is, but it is said of the Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth - one of the mightiest intellects of Christian history - how he would sum up his years of academic study. His reply was to quote the hymn some of us learned in Sunday School: “Jesus loves me,/ This I know,/ For the Bible tells me so.”

Are you, perhaps, getting all stewed up over some problem at the moment? Well, you certainly have my sympathy. I've been there - many times! - as well. But perhaps you need to take a leaf out of Naaman's book. He eventually did the right thing, the simple thing. And God honoured his step of faith. 

Is it time to stop fretting, to start trusting, and to leave it all in the hands of your heavenly Father?

Dear Father, forgive me that I so often complicate things unnecessarily. Grant me, please, the gift of child-like faith, and so bring me through my doubts and fears into the light of peace and hope. Amen.

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