Thursday, April 10, 2008

Confessing sins before we sin

The story of Naaman's healing from leprosy (2 Kings 5.1-14) is rightly viewed as a picture of Baptism. Which it is. It's one of those stories that bears unpacking on so many levels. Today I'm pushing just slightly further in the narrative to Naaman's confession in 5.15-19.

After Naaman is cleansed from the leprosy, he returns to Elisha, and makes a true confession of his faith. He offers a gift to Elisha, who refuses to accept it. But Naaman goes on to say that he would no longer worship false gods.

However, he goes on to make what we might call a preemptive confession. He acknowledges that when his master goes into the house of the false god Rimmon, he -- Naaman -- would be compelled to bow his head to the false god. He asks for forgiveness for the sin he knew he would commit.

If we didn't know the story, I think we'd probably imagine that Elisha would encourage him not to sin, encourage him not to bow, encourage him make a bold confession.

Elisha does none of these. He tells Naaman, "Go in peace," the words given to a penitent.

In this 2 themes are running. The first could be called "pastoral realism." Perhaps Elisha knows that Naaman will be unable to avoid this. Given that Naaman has seen a dramatic cleansing of his leprosy by the true God, it's unlikely he'll be tempted to worship a false one. But I think that Elisha knows that -- given Naaman's position -- he has few options. All of the options are fraught with consequences. Elisha also knows that the false god Rimmon is not a god, but a dumb (unspeaking) idol.

Perhaps a bigger picture comes from looking on this as a picture of the post-baptismal life of the believer who is cleansed from sin and death, but lives on in the flesh and the world, and knows he will sin. And so God forgives our sins. Even the ones when we know we will sin again, for whatever reason: weakness, lack of knowledge, or fear. Those sins after Baptism are covered. When we are washed in Baptism God knows that we will sin again. His words -- through Elisha -- peace and forgiveness are a precursor of what we hear, as well.

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