It’s a common occurrence to hear people complain about their aches and pains, struggles, and suffering. It’s just as common to hear Christians question where God is when they struggle and suffer. “How can a good God allow these bad things to happen to me?” “Where’s God when the person I love is sick, afflicted, or dying?” “Why is God letting this happen?”
These are questions that demand an answer. When people are hurt and in agony, what can we say to console them? Are there any words that can comfort them? I think there are, and Naaman’s experience is a good place to begin our search for an answer.
God blows up Naaman’s expectations about how a god is supposed to behave. God doesn’t scare Naaman into faith. He doesn’t hurl lightning-bolts from heaven to drive Naaman to Elijah’s front door. God is kind to Naaman because that’s where God wants to be most God for him. God wants to be God for Naaman in his faithful, loving-kindness.
Naaman is the perfect example of how God blows up our expectations about how a god is supposed to behave.
But that’s why God hides from us. He hides on purpose, hiding where we wouldn’t expect to find him so that we can’t drag his name and reputation into places where we want him to be God for us. God’s most God for Naaman in his faithful, loving-kindness, not wrapped in anger and threats of eternal punishment if Naaman doesn’t get his life straightened out.
Naaman is the perfect example of how God blows up our expectations about how a god is supposed to behave. Naaman is a Syrian, not an Israelite. He’s an extraordinary warrior, leader of all the armies of Syria, but he’s defeated by a skin disease. The remedy that cures him is given by a little girl. Elisha isn’t summoned to the Syrian king’s court or even the Israelite king’s court. Instead, Naaman has to go and knock on the prophet’s front door to ask for help. Then, Elisha doesn’t bother to answer the door. Instead, Elisha sends his servant to say, “Go take a bath in the river seven times, and you’ll be healed.” Finally, Naaman’s own slaves have to convince him to get into the water.
God strips away all of Naaman’s choices and control in order to humble the Syrian, to make clear that there’s only one God, and he doesn’t play by Naaman’s rules. In this way, God is God for Naaman in the way of faithful, loving-kindness. He converts the commander of Syria’s army, so that, Naaman must confess: “Now I know that there’s no god in the whole world, except the God of Israel” (2 Kgs 5:15).
God doesn’t care about man-made boundaries. Our country of origin, status, rank, and feelings are irrelevant to the God who’s all in all. We can complain, walk away in a rage, and define how God will be God for us, but it’s a waste of our time and energy.
God hides where we don’t expect to find him, and where he loves without limits or measures. Where people are their worst and the world is a horrific mess: that’s where God hides. When nobody shows up, no one will carry our burdens, and not a word of encouragement is expressed, that’s where God is most God for us. God hides amongst those people in those places. It’s where he sends his preachers to deliver his promises to the last, littlest, least, lost, and forgotten.
God hides in agony, suffering, and death. And baptized in his name, we’re wrapped in his agony, suffering, and death so that we’re hidden from sin, the world, and hell in Christ Jesus.
He hides from us on purpose so he can be God for us without limits or measures in the way of faithful, loving-kindness.
We suffer because we can’t accept that God doesn’t behave in the ways we want him to behave. We also suffer because we’re wrapped up in Christ Jesus through baptism.
That’s the brutal truth about God. He hides from us on purpose so he can be God for us without limits or measures in the way of faithful, loving-kindness. He’s most God, most Savior, where we don’t expect him to show up; in our agony, suffering, and death. It’s the harsh truth revealed to Naaman after God had humbled and converted him. It’s the harsh truth for we who are baptized into Christ Jesus.
Where we’re at our worst and life is horrific, God’s there for us. When we’re out of time, and we can’t get any lower, the God who’s the same yesterday, today, and forever is already at the bottom waiting for us. When we’re furious and believe God’s ignoring our agony, Christ Jesus wraps himself in our suffering on the cross, all of it, allowing it to kill him so that even in death, God reveals that, “I will not forget you. I have engraved you on the palms of my hands... so, don’t be afraid, because I have reclaimed you. I have called you by name; you are mine” (Is 46:14-16; Is 43:1).