Verses memorized by kids at our church’s Vacation Bible School keep running through my mind. They studied the passage in Acts 17 where Paul stands surrounded by statues to false gods and speaks life-changing truth to the gathered Athenians. He tells them that there is one God — not the many different idols they believe they must appease for health and wealth and circumstantial happiness.
He explains that this one God reigns in sovereign power over their circumstances, having decided where and when they’d live, and all for one purpose: that they might seek Him and come to know Him.
“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God …” (Acts 17:26-27)
The other morning, with Paul’s words to the Athenians still fresh in my mind, God used the truth of the Acts 17 passage to shed light on verses from 2 Kings, which deal with Naaman’s need for Elisha to heal him of his leprosy. The chapter of 2 Kings 5 mainly concentrates on Naaman washing seven times in the Jordan, but I never made it past the first verse. Here’s the verse I got stuck on, from 2 Kings 5:1:
“Naaman, commander of the army of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria.”
In that first verse, God describes Naaman as the supreme commander of Syria’s ultra-powerful army. He’s a really successful man, leading the army of a king who’s actually bent on destroying God’s people. Namaan’s a conqueror — he’s well respected and admired, and at the epitome of success.
Riveting points and converging truth
But here’s the riveting point: Naaman’s victories, even though unacknowledged by Naaman, have been granted by God. Success in battle and respect in life have been given to Naaman by the God he does not even acknowledge.
And so I get lost in these thoughts:
- How does Naaman’s successful position as commander of the king’s army shed light on my own life?
- And what could these verses actually teach me about God’s plan for me, and His plan for you, and for your neighbors, and my friends, and your acquaintances? (For no one I know commands an army like Naaman, or sits at the right-hand of an earthly king.)
But we all know businessmen and women, and students, and workers of all sorts.
So how does God’s granted success in Namaan’s life apply as I congratulate my neighbor on her success, or as I console my friend in her failure? We can know this: if my neighbor’s life seems filled with success it is because God has made it so, even if she doesn’t follow the Lord (Eph. 1:11, Prov. 19:21). And this also stands true: if my friend experiences the opposite, it is because the Lord has made it so.
For one magnificent purpose
For when the Acts 17 passage converges with this truth from 2 Kings, we see that:
- Whether or not my neighbor acknowledges God as Lord of the universe, He still is.
- And in God’s sovereign plan, He determines the very time in history my neighbor lives.
- He determines the very nationality my neighbor belongs to.
- He determines whether my neighbor succeeds.
- And He does it all — birth-time in history, nationality, success or failure — for one purpose.
He does it all so that my neighbor would seek Him.
Everyone — Naaman, your co-worker, your friend (both those who worship the true God, and those who don’t) — has been set down in a certain place and time for one purpose: that they might seek God and find Him and know Him.
Naaman’s military loss or victory, my neighbor’s business demise or success, your friend’s loss of all she held dear or gain of more than she could imagine — each comes not as a series of random circumstances. Each has been given that, as a result, God might be sought and known.
For in the end (and He, being God, knows this) knowing Him is all that matters.