When Given a Faith Ultimatum is Martyrdom Required?
Elisha seems to allow an alternative to taking a life-threatening stand for God
I love the story of Naaman in the Bible. He commands the enemy army, conducts raids into Israel, and even has a Hebrew girl as a slave. It’s this girl, full of faith and void of resentment, who suggests Naaman go to the prophet Elisha for healing of his leprosy.
Despite Naaman’s complete unworthiness (sound familiar?), God has compassion and wants to remove this disease. Though there are some twists along the way, God does heal him. However it’s easy to miss a small detail in the middle of the story.
After he is healed, Naaman seeks forgiveness for something he knows he will do in the future, something he now comprehends as wrong. In the course of his service to his king, Naaman will have to go into the temple of Rimmon and bow down in worship.
Naaman’s life will be on the line if he doesn’t. If he fails to kneel to this foreign god, he will be summarily executed.
Today we hear stories of those fully committed to their faith in Jesus; they refuse to bow in worship to anyone but him. They stand firm and are summarily executed. They take a stand for Jesus and are martyred.
I expect Elisha to tell Naaman to do just that, to affirm God as the only true god, to refuse to bend his knee, and to die for his convictions.
But Elisha doesn’t. Instead he gives approval for Naaman to not take a stand and permits him to bow in worship to another god. Elisha says, “Go in peace.”
This gives me pause.
God knows Naaman’s heart and that his bowing to Rimmon is merely a life-preserving tactic. Through Elisha, God gives Naaman permission to pretend to worship another god and live, instead of refusing to and die.God permits Naaman to pretend to worship another god and live, instead of refusing to and die. Click To Tweet
Most martyrs have no control over their fate and are helpless victims of hate and opposition, but some have an option: affirm your faith and die or equivocate and live. While we shouldn’t take this passage as permission to avoid taking a stand for Jesus if our life is at stake, we also shouldn’t conclude that God doesn’t allow for exceptions. Our response, if faced with such a situation, is for us to discern. May God grant us the wisdom to do so.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.