Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been in Australia and didn’t have the kind of robust internet feed needed to get this blog out. I’m not saying Australia is behind the times (it is not), but the kind of places I was staying were not kind to my internet habits. Anyway, here goes!
In an earlier blog I argued that the God of the Bible is unpredictable, at least from the human perspective. Over and over again, the Bible tells stories in which God acts in ways we would not expect. His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8-9). The awareness of this biblical theme has enormous implications for the way we do mission and the way we relate to God and to other people who are trying to understand and follow Him.
Another startling story is found in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, military chief of staff to the Syrian king, is afflicted with leprosy. Upon the advice of an Israelite servant girl he goes to Israel to find healing. After washing seven times in the Jordan at the instruction of Elisha, he is healed and returns to the prophet with a strange request for two mule-loads of earth from Elisha=s property. He then declares his intention to worship no other God but Yahweh while asking for an exception. Would it be all right for him to bow down in the temple of Rimmon when he escorts the king of Syria there? “Go in peace,” is Elisha’s surprising reply.
There is a connection between the two mule-loads of earth and ancient religious beliefs. In all of known human history the era of the most radical religious change occurred in the first millennium B.C. During this period people in general moved from a devotion to what we would call heathen religions, where religion was associated with the land and the forces of nature, to the philosophical or world religions we are familiar with today. All the great world religions of today either had their origin between 800-200 B.C. (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism) or are directly dependant on those that did (Christianity, Islam, Sikhism). These religions have largely displaced the primal religions although the primal religions still have influence below the surface in many parts of the world.
For the primal religions of Naaman’s day, all gods were associated with one land or another. That meant that Naaman could not worship Yahweh, the God of Israel, in Syria unless he brought with him Israelite dirt to spread in his garden. As noted in the SDA Bible Commentary, volume 2, page 878: “Although Naaman had recognized the fact that outside of Israel there was no God, he had not entirely divested himself of the view that the God of Israel was in some special way attached to the land of Israel, and in his own country he wanted to worship that God on Israelite soil.” So when Naaman wanted to worship Yahweh, he would kneel on the Israelite soil. When he entered the temple of Rimmon with the king, he would bow his head but not his heart. Elisha agrees with this arrangement, somewhat to our surprise.
Many godly people love to exalt the Bible as the rule of all faith and practice. We must not come to the Bible in a critical or suspicious spirit. Instead, we must bow before the Word of God and submit ourselves to its teachings. And I agree totally with these sentiments. But truly submitting to Scripture can be a lot more challenging than merely a verbal assent to its superiority. It sometimes means discovering a God we didn’t know about before, or One that we didn’t believe in. Then our level of submission to Scripture is truly exposed.