Faith Like a Child
It’s easy to miss, but this story begins and ends with children. It begins with the daring testimony of a little girl, and it ends with Naʿaman becoming like a “little boy,” all over again.
This story reverberates with anticipatory echoes of those words of Jesus found in Matthew 18:3: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (NIV11).
There are (of course) many reasons we might easily overlook the fact that this story is really about the faith of a little girl.
Unlike the older, male characters, the young girl is not named.
Though named, Naʿaman is more foible than forte—he is desperate but proud, and his pride nearly prevents him from experiencing healing—as it so often does for many today. Whatever this story may be, it is not a story of Naʿaman’s faith.
The central feature of this story is likewise not the power of God wielded by Elisha—Elisha discerns and God acts, to be sure. Yet—as we read later on in Romans 10:14—”How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (ESV).
Without the testimony of this “little girl,” Naʿaman would have never heard of Elisha, never had an idea of the healing that was possible, never contacted Elisha, never been told how to be whole again, and never would he have come to testify that Yahweh God is the one true God—that “there is no God in all the earth but in Israel” (2Kings 5:15).
This girl is the true hero of the story. It is her testimony and faith that God moves most powerfully through. And if we stop to consider—even just a moment—what her life was like, then we will truly learn how the Psalmist can proclaim in Psalm 34:1: “I will praise the Lord no matter what happens” (TLB).
Aside from the boldness of her testimony, we know very little about this girl. The word used in Hebrew to identify her tells us that she was a young girl who was not yet married, but who was old enough to be betrothed. Given cultural realities, this probably places her between about 8 and 16 years old.
We are told she is a prisoner of war, carried off by “the Syrians on one of their raids” (2Kings 5:2). Due to issues of tact and our generationally diverse gathering this morning, I must avoid elaborating on the kinds of things that were done to the women of enemies in wartime. Suffice it to say that a woman in bible times who found herself in the hands of enemy soldiers was usually subjected to atrocities no human being should suffer.
This girl is enslaved in war, removed from her home and everything she has known, subjected to who knows what…… And ultimately made a slave—not unlike Hagar under Sarah, performing whatever menial household jobs or abuse Naʿaman ‘s own wife imposed upon her.
Whatever suffering I think I have endured pales in comparison to this girl. In our present time, many have been moved by the stories and images of the children today who have been victimized by war, rebellion, greed, power, and fear.
As a parent and as a follower of the Christ who said “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14), I shudder to consider how many of the displaced and victimized children of our world today may have experienced the same atrocities, witnessed the same depravity, and suffered the same conditions as they are treated as less-than-human——as we blatantly ignore and are even complicit in the destruction of the divine image that they bear. All these years later, it is still children—our children—our most vulnerable—who suffer the worst on account of our selfish and sinful decisions.
Hope to the Hopeless……
This is our hero this morning: a girl who has endured more than any human being should. A girl who is in the midst of circumstances where there is no possibility for improvement, for liberation, for life. Her reality involves being in this sub-human system of slavery until the day she finally and mercifully dies.
And yet her voice is clear.
And yet her testimony sounds loud.
And yet her faith endures more solid and confident than my own.
“And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6 ESV).
Suffering = TestimonyN
Among the instructions given by the apostle Paul to the Christian community at Thessaloniki, Paul offers this command: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).
Paul knows the context of the Thessalonians; he knows that the road ahead will not be smooth; he knows this will not be an easy instruction to follow. Earlier in the same chapter (5), Paul talks about global upheaval, darkness, and danger—he is telling them what to expect down the road. But he wants them to hold fast to the faith because a faithful testimony is even more powerful when offered in the context of such adversity.
In the case of the girl in our reading, it is precisely the context of her faithful testimony that makes it even more powerful. Hers is not the fair-weather faith (of then or now) that is so easily confused with nationalism. In fact, in the understanding of the day, the reality that the Syrians won the battle that resulted in her enslavement was a statement that their god defeated her God. Yet she knows her God is not defeated—her God lives! She knows that whatever they worship cannot be God and cannot have power because the only God is the God Yahweh, the God of Israel. No matter what has happened to her, she has faith that God’s way will work out in the end.
It’s a simple faith—the faith of a child. But by golly if it isn’t the most powerful and enduring sort of faith around. It’s the kind of faith of which Jesus says, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 NIV11).
Give us the gift of faith—
Faith like a Child.
Make ours a simple trust,
Knowing that you are able
Always and everywhere
To act for good in our lives.
When we get knocked down,
Give us strength to get up again.
For we know that with your help
Nothing can ever keep us down.
Help us see through the false religion
That deceives us into believing in anything
Other than you for our salvation:
Be it our nation, our church,
Ourselves, or any other thing.
Teach us to be, like Jesus,
A people who value life,
A people who value each other,
A people who looks for God’s image
In everyone, everywhere,
And in all circumstances.
Convict us of the ways
That we participate in the violence that is done
To minorities and the marginalized,
To those of other religions,
To those of other denominations,
And to our enemies—
All of whom are our neighbors.
Teach us, in Christ, the way of peace.