Have you ever noticed that people are not only reluctant to believe in God’s grace, but it also makes them angry?
In Life Is Impossible: And That’s Good News, Nick Lannon points to Naaman the Syrian as an example of someone who was infuriated at an easy salvation.
If you remember, Naaman was commander of the Syrian army and was immensely rich and powerful. He was used to winning—used to achieving his objectives, overcoming the odds, getting the job done, and being praised for winning difficult battles.
Then he got leprosy.
Now the soldier who had defeated so many enemies was slowly being killed by his own body. He resolved to win that war, too, but no matter what he tried—and with his enormous wealth and power, he must have tried it all—nothing worked.
Then a recently captured slave girl from Israel told him about a prophet who could heal him. And Naaman was desperate enough to listen to this little girl.
He set out with a company of horses and chariots carrying a treasure worth millions of dollars. As Lannon says,
He comes to Samaria intending to overwhelm the prophet with his riches. He’s got all this silver and gold and beautiful clothing, and he rolls us to Elisha’s house with all his horses and chariots. He wants Elisha to notice how awesome he is (Lannon, Life Is Impossible, p. 13).
But when Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, instead of being welcomed with fanfare, the prophet didn’t even come out to see him! Instead, Naaman was greeted by a messenger carrying a simple instruction:
“Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean” (2 Kgs 5:9-10).
God would heal Naaman! Isn’t that amazing news? Isn’t that exactly what he wanted? And it couldn’t be easier—just take a dip in the Jordan, and no money, sacrifice, or grueling treatments required.
Wouldn’t you be overjoyed?
Not Naaman. On the contrary, he was enraged!
But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage (2 Kgs 5:11-12).
Why was Naaman angry? Because it seemed all too…easy. He expected something more…impressive and overtly “religious.” He wanted some pageantry! He expected Elisha to at least come and greet him, see all his wealth and power, and then make a big show of his healing with a calling out to God, and maybe some waving of the hands, and who knows what else these religious people do.
But most of all, Naaman apparently expected Elisha to give him some difficult tasks to earn his healing:
He wants a complicated ritual, or a recipe with all sorts of steps that he has to follow. He’s angry that he’s not getting a long assignment. This seems incredibly counter-intuitive on the surface, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense: if Naaman can’t purchase this healing, he wants to earn it by showing Elisha that he’s willing to do any arcane ritual that the prophet can come up with (Lannon, Life Is Impossible, p. 14).
Naaman was expecting to prove to Elisha how awesome and worthy he was to be healed. Instead, the prophet wanted him to do something as easy as washing in the Jordan. Absurd!
As Naaman marched away in a huff, his servants came to him and reasoned with him saying:
“My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kgs 5:13).
Naaman was ready to do the hard thing, so why not do the easy thing? He was ready to pay millions, so why not pay nothing? What’s the problem with doing less than what you expected?
Eventually, Naaman relented, accepted the easy way, washed in the Jordan, and was miraculously healed, just as Elisha promised.
When I share the good news that God gives away eternal life for free, people often react like Naaman. They not only doubt the message, but actually get angry! Why is that? Why treat such good news as if it were bad? Lannon suggests—
We can’t handle being given something for free, and certainly not if that thing is forgiveness, the love of God, and eternal life! We want desperately to earn it. We are like Naaman, incensed that our riches (our spiritual quality) and obedience are not required for our healing (Lannon, Life Is Impossible, p. 15).
“Religion” has convinced us that salvation can’t be as easy as that!
Having convinced ourselves that a righteous life is the path to God’s love, the fact that God’s love has been given to us for free on account of Christ should make us weep tears of joy, not frustration (Lannon, Life Is Impossible, pp. 15-16).
So what can you do when someone hears the good news and reacts like Naaman? Maybe you can take a lesson from the three servants in the story.
The first servant pointed Naaman to the man who could heal him (vv 2-4).
The second servant told Naaman what to do to be healed (v 10).
And when Naaman was walking away in a huff, the third servant (or servants) tried to persuade him to reconsider (v 13).
You can be like those servants. You can point people to Jesus as their Savior and explain that the only condition to have eternal life is to believe in Him, and if someone finds it hard to believe that eternal life could be a gift, you can try to persuade him by saying, “If Jesus had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when He says to you, ‘Whoever believes has everlasting life’?”