What happens when you are compelled by outside forces to act contrary to your faith? In every generation there have been laws passed, governments established, actions taken, and popular opinions formed that have flown in the face of the gospel of Jesus; some are subtle and some are blatant. I am grateful for Desiring God’s answer to this question. They helpfully show that while we need to seek the peace of the city in which we live, we are still called by God to resist laws that not only go against the peace of our community, but go against God’s will.
But there is one chapter in Scripture that has gotten me thinking a lot about how we may act in certain situations.
The Lord pardon your servant
In 2 Kings 5 we read about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. We are told that “by him the Lord (Yahweh) had given victory to Syria” (v. 1). God used this man to accomplish His purposes. But Naaman has leprosy; which brings him to the (enemy) nation of Israel for healing from Elisha the prophet. Naaman at first doesn’t like Elisha’s prescription for healing (dipping in the ugly Jordan River), but once he complies with it he is completely healed! And not merely physically, but he becomes a worshiper of the true God, saying, “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” (v. 15). He backs this up with requesting two cart loads of Israel’s dirt. He wants to stand on Israel’s soil while worshiping Israel’s God. There is no doubt in my mind (or in Christ’s, see Luke 4.27) that this is a changed man in whom God is actively working!
With this in mind, consider this interesting request that Naaman makes of Elisha when he leaves:
“In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 1 Kings 5.18
Apparently, part of being the commander of the army of Syria is accompanying the aging king into the house of his god and aiding him in his worship of this god. Naaman knows that worshiping this god would contradict his worship of Yahweh, but he also knows that, as the commander, he has a job to do. So Naaman asks Elisha for God’s forgiveness when his job requires this godless action.
And what is Elisha’s reply? “Go in peace.” He doesn’t say that God will condemn him nor does he call him a false worshiper and a hypocrite. Elisha and Naaman both acknowledge that the action required of Naaman is not reflective of his heart. He will be worshiping the true God on borrowed ground from Israel meanwhile carrying out his duty as the commander of the army. Naaman is prepared (and pardoned) to comply with the command because he knows that it is not he, but his position that is bowing at this altar. He is acting on behalf of the nation and he recognizes that the nation and its king will be judged for this action, but he himself will be forgiven for bowing at the altar.
The Naaman option
If Naaman, a converted pagan, can be told “go in peace” when he explains his situation, what does that mean for Christians today? Religious freedom aside, what does it mean for Kim Davis? (Aside: I agree that Mrs. Davis has the freedom to do what she did; it truly seems as though she is in the right. See here and here). Are there situations that appear to contradict our faith, but are actually pardonable by God because God is looking at our hearts? This is a delicate balance for three reasons:
- It’s Scripturally Rare. I cannot think of many places in Scripture where God’s people are in this situation. More often we are called to carry our cross and lay our lives down for Christ. If we are unwilling to acknowledge Christ before men, He will not acknowledge us before the Father (Matthew 10.32-33).
- It’s a question of representation. Who am I representing by civil obedience or disobedience? There are clear, definite situations where the believer must say, “my participation in that would signify my personal approval, and God is not pleased with that. Therefore, I will not…” But there are a few places where we might say, “although I and my God do not approve of the situation, I will fulfill this civil duty. I am not defying God, but the State is, and they will answer for the laws they have passed.
- It has limits. In the grand scheme of things, aiding your ailing king in the worship of his (false) god is a small matter. Elisha would not have said, “go in peace” if Naaman’s request was to be allowed to kill others without cause or destroy the temple of God. I am still working through this, but I think there are places where God’s people can “go in peace”. Perhaps this will remain a case by case discussion of Biblical ethics as time goes on.
Finally, consider this: most Conservative Evangelicals have held this belief without realizing it for years by supporting Just War. We claim that murder is against God’s Commands, but when Christian soldiers are called to kill for America, we call that justified. Why? Because those soldiers aren’t killing maliciously (we hope), but on behalf of their country. This passage would defend them. It also would defend someone who signs marriage licenses for divorcees and homosexuals at the town office. It is your country, not yourself, and not your God, that you are representing. And God knows who to judge when the time comes.