Years ago when my kids were at home and would tell me their troubles, I’d listen sympathetically. I would give them whatever advice I could come up with at the time, and then I’d say, “And don’t forget, as the Bible says, suffering builds character, so in the long run all this trouble might do you some good.” It didn’t always go quite like that, and after several times the line got old, and then it was oftentimes said in fun. But it was never only in fun. That line is in the Bible, and it is the truth. In the big picture of life, our struggles do make us stronger and suffering does build character and God does use our troubles to increase our faith.
But when we are in trouble, we don’t want to look at the big picture. We want to look at the little picture. We just want the troubles to end. We want to find a way out. Romans 5:4-5 does indeed say, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces a hope that will not disappoint us.” But, when we are in trouble, we just want to get out of it; when we are in pain, we want it to end; and when we are sick, we want to get better.
That is what Naaman wanted (See II King 5). He just wanted to get better. Naaman had leprosy, a disease that damages your nervous system, leaving you unable to feel any pain. This is dangerous, because your body then has no warning system to tell you that you have been injured. You can break an ankle and not even know it, until the foot breaks off completely and you trip over it. You can accidentally set your hand on a hot stove and not know it, until you smell your flesh burning. Pain is the body’s warning system, and without it, we would be injuring ourselves all the time. Even a sliver can be dangerous for a leper, because he will not feel the pain of an infection beginning. He won’t know anything is wrong until he can see the damage that the infection is doing; and by then it can be a very bad infection. Lepers were always losing fingers and toes, legs and arms, and even parts of their face. Naaman had leprosy, and there was no cure.
But then Naaman heard about the prophet Elisha. Elisha provided him with a miracle cure from God, and he got better. On the surface, this story looks like nothing more than the story of a miraculous healing. Naaman was sick and the power of God made him better. That by itself makes it a pretty good story. But if we focus only on the healing, we will miss out on a great deal. There is much more going on in this little story.
As much as this is a story about healing, it is also a story about pride, about faith, and about suffering producing something good. Naaman was an important man, “Great in the sight of his master and highly regarded,” says the Bible. He was the commander of the whole army of Aram, a nation that bordered Israel. Aram was Israel’s enemy, an enemy who in those days had the upper hand. And yet, this great general was about to take advice from a young Hebrew slave girl. Real men didn’t take advice from women back then; especially not important men, and much less from a young girl, and even less if that girl was a foreigner and a slave. Naaman would never even listen to this girl who was so far beneath him, except that he was desperate. Illness will make you desperate enough to try anything. Even the advice of a despised foreigner. Notice that the slave girl did not even presume to talk to Naaman. The girl told Naaman’s wife, who then told Naaman about this miracle-working prophet who was in Samaria, a province of Israel.
Naaman asked his king’s permission to go, and the king of Aram not only gave him permission, but he sent a large gift of silver and gold to the king of Israel. The king of Israel then sent Naaman to Elisha. Naaman, despite his desperation, probably had some doubts about this whole idea anyway, and now, he seemed to be getting the run-around. He was not used to that. He was a commander. But he did go to Elisha, and there he received another blow to his pride. Elisha did not even come out to see this great man. He just sent out a messenger to say, “Go wash in the Jordan river seven times and you will be cleansed.” At this, Naaman’s pride had enough. He said, “No, I will not go wash in that stupid river. Why doesn’t he just come out and wave his hand over me like any decent magician,” and he went off in a rage. His servants convinced him to at least give it a try, and so with a bare minimum of faith, Naaman did what Elisha told him to do. And he was healed. Naaman then became a believer in the God of Israel, saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”
Naaman almost missed out on the cure because of his arrogance and pride. But when he did step out in faith, he was blessed with not only healing, but also with something even better– a true faith in the living God. Suffering had indeed produced character, perseverance, hope, and faith. (continued…)
Romans 5:3b-4 — …We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
2 Kings 5:1 — Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2 Kings 5:15– Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”
Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed;
save me and I will be saved,
for you are the one I praise.