Friday, April 22, 2011

Generosity, Pain, And The Nature of Faith

A number of things stand out to me from today's reading.  The first is the nature of God's generosity.  II Kings chapter four begins with the story of a woman who is at risk of losing her children.  Her husband has died and left their family in a great deal of debt.  To pay off the debt, the loan provider is going to sell the woman's two children into slavery.  At this point the woman comes to Elisha to ask for help.  He tells her to collect every spare storage vessel in the village.  She is then told to take the single jar of oil she already owned and pour it into the other vessels.  By the power of God, her little jar of oil fills every storage vessel she was able to find.  Elisha then tells her to sell all the oil she collected.  The generosity part comes in when Elisha tells her to keep the change.  God didn't provide just enough to pay off the debt.  He provided too much.

Last night Kalyn and I attended a Seder meal.  It was the first time I've gone to one, and even though it was abbreviated (We didn't have a full meal.), it was still a neat experience.  During one part of the Seder, the host listed all that God had done for the Israelites in leading them out of Egypt.  After each step, the rest of us chanted "dayenu," which means "it would have been enough."  The point of that part of the service is to reflect upon how much God went above and beyond what he needed to do.  God went over-board.  He went too far.  Thinking back to the widow and Elisha, it would have been enough for God to provide for her debt, but he was not willing to stop there.  That is the generosity of God.

The next thing that struck me in today's reading is the story of a woman who was childless until Elisha wanted to give her a gift.  She was a wealthy woman who needed nothing, but she was barren.  So, Elisha prophecied that she would be given a child.  In due time, she had a son.  A number of years passed, and then one day as her son was out with his father, he complained of a severe head ache.  The son returned home, but after a few hours of sitting in his mother's lap, he died.  In the end, Elisha brought the boy back to life, but this story tears me up.

During my senior year of high school and my freshmen year of college I worked as a drum instructor for the Angola high school marching band.  I'm proud to say that they placed first in state both years (the band and the drum line respectively), although that has much more to do with their talent than mine.  I got the gig because their band director had been my band director in middle school.  After I marched drum corps, he called me up and offered me a job.  This band director and his wife had tried for years to have children, but with no luck.  Then, when I was in eighth grade, they were shocked to discover his wife was pregnant.  That was, in fact, why he left my middle school to take the position at Angola.  Our little, country school couldn't pay him enough to support a family.  Their little boy was the joy of their life.  Then, one day about four years later, they were taking a road trip when he started screaming in pain from a head ache.  The next day he died of an aneurysm.  It was soon after winning state the first time.  That next year as we all headed down to Indianapolis, he wrote a letter to his absent son.  When Angola won state the second time, he left the letter on the 50 yard line.  I wonder if anyone ever read it.  Maybe it's having a little boy of my own now, but that breaks my heart.  Where was their Elisha?

The last thing that stood out to me from today's reading is what Naaman has to teach us about the nature of faith.  Naaman was a military leader for one of Israel's enemies.  He was also a leper.  One of his wife's servants was a captive from Israel, and she told his wife about Elisha.  Naaman then went to see Elisha, and Elisha told him that if he wanted to be healed he needed to go dip himself in the Jordan River seven times.  Now the Jordan River is more of a moving mud puddle, so Naaman wasn't too pleased about this proposal, but his servants convinced him do as Elisha had said.  They told him, "If Elisha had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it.  Why won't you do something so simple?"

As I've said in previous posts (I think...maybe it was in a sermon), faith is active.  Faith isn't a belief in a principle; it is an active trust that leads to an active response.  Naaman might not have been happy about Elisha's requirement, but his active response was enough.  He was healed.  This seems to have surprised him as much as anyone.  We modern, enlightened people tend not to do something unless we know why and know what we'll get from it.  So, our faith gets filtered through that lens.  Our prayer life suffers because we don't know what good it's doing.  We don't fast because, well...what's the point?  Lectio divina, is that an Italian dish?  Dunk myself in the Jordan seven times?!  One time...nothing.  Two times...nothing.  Three times...this is embarrassing.  Four times...how could I be tricked into this?  Five times...I'm never going to live this down.  Six times...God is a giant disappointment.  Seven times...my leprosy is gone....

We approach faith as belief that leads to action.  It might do us some good to discipline our action and discover that we have developed belief.  Maybe that has been the nature of faith all along.

Stopping point: II Kings 5

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