Naaman washes in The River – part two

The story so far (from 2 Kings 5) is that Naaman, the commander of the King of Aram’s army, has leprosy, and his slave girl sends word that he should go and see the prophet in Israel to be healed. Following protocol, Naaman gets a letter from his king to Israel’s king, and makes his way there to request the healing. On receiving Naaman and the letter of commendation and request, Israel’s king is horrified. He – rightly – knows he can’t provide such a thing but – wrongly – doesn’t refer Naaman on to the prophet, but sees the whole thing as a way of picking a fight. The prophet steps in and invites Naaman to come to him.

But this is where the story now gets particularly interesting to me. Instead of doing something spooky, which Elisha is certainly not opposed to doing in other circumstances, he doesn’t even come out to meet Naaman, but just tells him that if he wants to healed, he ought to go and wash in the river…

Ah, the river for healing… so many dots to connect, so many bows to draw for a church gathering called The River…. Well, not quite as we might expect. You see, one of the most extraordinary things about the river in the story of Naaman’s healing is that it is so ordinary. It is singularly unimpressive – at least compared to the rivers of Damascus according to Naaman – (2 Kings 5:12) – and so “unmagical” or “unsupernatural” (errm, that would be “natural” I guess) that Naaman feels humiliated by the command and refuses to do it – even though he is guaranteed healing through it.

The thing is, as the “too ordinary” and “too easy” avenue of healing, the river required Naaman to completely humble himself under the command of God as part of the healing process. You can tell his pride is coming under God’s gracious attack, because he is angry and rages at what is required (I can often see that in my own angry times) – not because it is too hard, but because it doesn’t recognise Naaman’s importance, it doesn’t prove that he is worthy of God and God’s prophet doing something “miraculous” on his behalf, it doesn’t make a show out of grace.

The river in 2 Kings 5 shows us that, beyond his leprosy, the greater healing Naaman needs is the healing of his self-importance, self-sufficiency and self-worship. He needs to know himself as he truly is in relation to the God of the universe – the God who, as the entirety of this passage teaches us, is not simply the national God of Israel, but the One True God who is in control of the victory of all armies, including Aram’s (5:1 – ponder the middle sentence for a while, it’s kinda mind blowing), of physical health, of life and death (5:7), and of the whole world (5:15).

So, only in coming to the point of accepting the humbling, even humiliating, command of God, Naaman receives physical and spiritual healing…

2 Kings 5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

The gracious promise of God and the great power of God was proven in Naaman’s complete physical restoration, and having received the grace of both healing and humility, he responds with an amazing statement of faith and worship.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”

I imagine Naaman singing now at the top of his voice:

“I believe that You’re my healer,
I believe, You are all I need.

I believe that You’re my portion,
I believe…

Wait, do you recognise the song?

A young Australian pastor called Mike Guglielmucci wrote it some years back and not only did his church Planet Shakers love it, Mike came and did a performance of it for the annual Hillsong Live album in 2008. That particular performance was the talk of the Christian town, because Mike sang those words with an oxygen tank in place. Each sentiment meant so much – as Mike was battling life-threatening cancer.

Except he wasn’t. Not long after the CD was released, it came out that he was not sick with cancer, he was sick with an addiction to pornography and, clearly, an addiction to untruth about himself and his relationship to God. This scandal was the culmination of significant psychological, relational and spiritual brokenness that had consumed his life and made him lie to his family, his church and the nation.

Well, the Hillsong CD was quickly withdrawn from sale and another printed. And yet, I have two more recent CDs from separate artists in the US that contain covers of Guglielmucci’s song Healer, released after the scandal was well known. Every time I hear them, I wonder – should we be singing this song? How can such hypocrisy behind the lyrics make them useful for worship?

And yet I think that the song and its situation does indeed speak to us of God the Healer – and maybe Naaman would have understood it better than most. From what I observed through the media, Mike Guglielmucci was completely humiliated, and the consequences of his sin brought terrible shame on himself and the church in Australian society. That is not good. That is not healing. But the fact that his brokenness finally became known, that Mike was laid bare, that he had to strip off and wade into the humiliating waters of the truth, have probably meant that true healing could actually begin to take place in his life and the life of those around him. Painful healing, but healing nonetheless. God did that. We know, because God brings what is in the dark into the light. Through that scandal, he brought Mike – and perhaps others facing similar issues – to the banks of the river where the truth could set them free, if they accepted His word.

Now I don’t know whether Guglielmucci has done all that the word of God has asked of him and whether he is still in the process of working with God for healing – has he washed seven times for completeness, will that take the rest of his life, and should I really be making such an allegory out of this text? Should I even be talking about the humiliation of someone else when there are so many areas of my own life that require me to humble myself before God and forsake my terrible hidden pride?

Probably not. But I want my own soul to know that to be humbled under God’s mighty hand is the beginning of Him lifting me up. I want to be healed of my self-sufficiency, my self-importance, my self-worship. And I pray that God would give us all – and especially whatever new community and gathering God creates at St Stephen’s The River – the grace and strength to live in the light and to be less concerned about our image as individuals and as a congregation than we are concerned to be known and to know ourselves as we truly are in relation to the God of the universe – in His might, His grace, His goodness and His power.

And I pray that our times together at The River – be it ever so ordinary – will see us experience both physical and spiritual healing as we humble ourselves under the word of God.

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2 thoughts on “Naaman washes in The River – part two

  1. Interesting take on it, but I think the Guglielmucci incident raises other issues too. As Philip K Dick would say: quite by accident in the pursuit of a good yarn [an author] may stumble on the truth… and only later on realize it.
    The idea that pornography addiction explains his actions needs a little deconstruction. Firstly, the broadening of the concept of addiction to a broad range of behaviours is based on a particular chemo-centric view of brain function, the “reward pathways” and the influence of dopamine are well established but this does not mean that it is valid to say one is addicted to food or pornography in the same way as a drug addiction. In fact it’s a little ironic that scientific theory is used, when convenient, to support moralising.
    In a sense Guglielmucci pulled the same trick twice! “Look I have cancer… oh just wait I have porn addiction”. Each admission was designed (probably inadvertently) to gain him acceptance from the flock and each played into their emotions. There is a common name for this, a liar, it doesn’t need justification.
    What probably does need more understanding is why the flock was so outraged, this is where the issue of Faith and it’s fragility comes into play. Religious belief requires symbols as its tenets are amorphous. Guglielmucci became a symbol (idol maybe?), but he is not alone, in fact it could be argued that the church itself is an idolisation of God. The word is transformed to serve interests, and all too often to support bigotry. Perhaps Guglielmucci’s most lucid statement is:
    “I’ve told too many people how they should live their lives” – interview (Today, Tonight)
    Let us not repeat his mistake.

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