Drive-Up-Window God

January 23rd, 2012

2 Kings 5:1-14

I was recently pondering some of the most important life-changing symbols of the modern culture for me. I was evaluating the effects of modern invention on my hurried life as a minister and parent of small children. Keep in mind, of course, that I have never lived in a world without electricity, indoor plumbing, television, telephone, or air and automobile travel. Obviously, the computer is among the most favored inventions. (It is, after all, difficult for many of us to imagine functioning without a handy keyboard and web browser at our fingertips.) The top of my list, however, was another modern marvel—the drive-up window. This may seem strange, but who among us does not employ this modern convenience in some fashion at least once a week? For me, it is much more often. I order at least a meal a week by speaking into a little box affixed to a giant menu. I scarcely remember the last time that I actually went inside the bank. I am much more likely to do my banking via a small tube, tunnel, and glass window connected to a human only by a scratchy intercom. Perhaps, most conveniently, I only fill my car with gasoline at stations that offer an option to pay at the pump, the service station equivalent to a drive-up window. I even find myself annoyed when businesses do not offer this convenience. It would be nice to pick up my forgotten gallon of milk at the grocery drive-up or to order my large latte at a window on the side of the coffee shop. The convenience of purchasing a product or acquiring a service from the ease of my driver’s seat is a luxury that I would not easily give up.

I cannot help but recognize, however, the detrimental effects of the drive-up craze. There are some things in life that cannot best be experienced in a hurried drive-up fashion. Among those things is our faith. Yet, I am increasingly aware of our human tendency, intensified by modern invention, to want our faith experiences to be as quick and simple as a stop at the nearest drive-up window to grab a burger or cash a check. Although the incident involving Naaman in today’s scripture seems to be neither quick nor easy, there is a hint of that very human desire for easy faith that seems to be such a threat to modern Christians.

First Kings 5 relays the story of Naaman, the Aramean army commander suffering from leprosy. It is one of ten stories that are part of the Elisha cycle in 1 and 2 Kings. The stories in the Elisha cycle demonstrate the power of the prophet versus the power of the royal office (Thomas G. Smothers, “1 and 2 Kings,” in Mercer Commentary on the Bible [ed. Watson E. Mills and Richard F. Wilson; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995], 315.) Naaman experienced this power firsthand. He was, after all, a highly regarded person to the Aramean royalty. He was well respected by his countrymen as well as by the king. Yet respect and success were not enough for Naaman, as he suffered from the incurable debilitating ailment of leprosy. We do not know what leprosy treatments had been tried by Naaman to this point, but given his willingness to take the advice of an Israelite slave girl, Naaman was probably feeling hopeless and desperate.

After hearing about the prophet in Samaria, Naaman secured the king’s permission and blessing and set off for Israel. The king sent a letter ahead to the king of Israel to notify him of Naaman’s journey. Naaman arrived in Israel and was sent to Elisha, the prophet. Up to this point in the story Naaman seems to be a person so driven by his desperate desire for healing that he will do anything—including precarious travel and potentially dangerous interaction with a foreign government. The verses that follow, however, depict a person much less willing to go the extra mile. After being told to go dip in the Jordan River, Naaman lost his temper wondering why the prophet would not just simply call on God and lay hands on Naaman himself for healing. Naaman was angered that he should come all this way to dip himself in the Jordan when there were better waters in his homeland. He was so angered that after all of his journey for healing, nearing the finish, he left in a rage.

Although Naaman was willing to make quite an effort to get to Elisha for his healing, in the end he wanted an easy fix. He wanted Elisha to wave his hand and heal him without anything more than travel required of Naaman. His dip in the Jordan required Naaman to have faith that this God of Israel could actually heal him. This requirement proved to be too much for Naaman who was almost willing to forgo his healing rather than go down to the Jordan. His wise servants, however, reminded him that he would have been willing do to something great for his healing. Why should he sacrifice this possibility of healing because it was not what he expected—to go out on faith and do something that seemed too simple? Naaman finally agreed and was healed.

So often, faith seems too simple. God does not always require us to go a great distance or do a great task to experience God’s touch. On the contrary, it is usually not what we can do at all. God requires us to have a simple faith. At the same time, simple faith can be the greatest challenge because simple faith is not usually easy. What Naaman desired was a “drive-up-window” healing. He expected just to make the journey. Elisha would perform the healing and Naaman would conveniently receive it. God required more as God always does.

We are probably not seeking a leper’s healing like Naaman. Our generation is, however, seeking to experience God like never before. We want a tangible experience with Christ. Naaman’s story should remind us that that experience may require more of us than we realize. We cannot, for example, merely attend a worship service or spiritual event, buy a book, or listen to religious music. Doing those things is not enough without faith and a true desire to encounter Christ. It is when we are willing to dip in the Jordan that God intersects our life. The modern convenience of the drive-up will probably only continue to grow. Let us remember that when it comes to our faith and relationship with our Lord and Savior, we are called to do more than roll down the window of our soul. We are called to actively seek our God and embrace the opportunity to meet God wherever we can.

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