A YOUNG GIRL IN A WAR-TORN COUNTRY awakes one night to screams. Enemy soldiers have attacked her village. The raid is brutal, bloody, and lightning-swift. Her people are caught off-guard. Before dawn lights the sky, the girl is in chains, being marched away from the only home she’s ever known. She leaves behind her father, mother, brothers, and sisters. She has no idea if they’re alive or dead or if she’ll ever see any of them or her home again.
Fate is kind to her, relatively speaking. For a young girl captured in war and made a slave, there were many fates worse than domestic service in a wealthy home. The girl found herself working in the home of a high-ranking army commander, serving the commander’s wife. Life was better than it could have been—except that it would never be the same. Home, family, and everything familiar was gone forever.
What an adjustment that must have been! Today, we would expect someone who’d been through such a terrible experience to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, and perhaps she did. But she wasn’t the only person in that house suffering. The master of the house, the army commander, suffered from the terrible skin disease known in Bible times as leprosy. There was no known cure, and the condition inevitably led to the sufferer being cast out of society.
I wonder what this slave girl felt when she first learned that Naaman, commander of the army of Aram, was a leper. The natural reaction might be to gloat over the suffering of the man who had caused such suffering to her and her people. She might have reflected with pleasure on the fact that he would someday be outcast and cut off from his people, just as she now was from hers.
On the other hand, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Some people might react to such a tragic loss by moving forward and trying to forget the past. The slave girl might have said to herself, “I’m a citizen of Aram now. The God of Israel has forgotten me, so I’ll forget Him. I’ll assimilate to the culture, try to fit in. I’ll even worship the gods of Aram.” She
might have felt sorry for Naaman and prayed to the gods of his country to heal him.
But the slave girl did neither. She didn’t cling to bitterness and resentment, but neither did she forget who she was and where she came from. Somehow, though she was only a young girl and had suffered the loss of everything dear to her, she managed to be faithful to the God of heaven and still show respect and even love for the man who had taken her away from Israel. Hundreds of years before Jesus told people to love their enemies, she
demonstrated a spirit of forgiveness and generosity most Christians wouldn’t be able to imitate. Second Kings 5:3 (NIV) records what the slave girl said to Naaman’s wife upon learning of her master’s illness: “She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’”
This young girl was able to show kindness and forgiveness to a man who, by every human standard, should have been her enemy. Yet in loving the enemy, she didn’t compromise her own standards or beliefs. She wanted Naaman to be cured, and she pointed him toward the prophet of God, Elisha, in her own country.
That slave girl was able to walk a finer line than most of us can manage. When faced with an enemy—someone who has hurt us, someone who attacks everything we stand for—it’s so natural to respond with resentment. We want to see them suffer just as they’ve made us suffer. We delight in their pain. Most of us are a long way from the spirit of Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NIV).
Perhaps we’re afraid that if we love and pray for our enemies, we’ll fall into the opposite trap. We’ll condone their evil deeds, accept their values, maybe allow our standards to slip. It happens. There’s a well-known phenomenon known as the “Stockholm syndrome” in which people who are held hostage begin to sympathize with their captors, to identify with the goals and aims of those who have taken them hostage. In a world where God’s people are often hostages to sin and evil, we may be in danger of sympathizing with the enemy.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Naaman’s slave girl wasn’t a victim of Stockholm syndrome. She didn’t identify with the people of Aram or their gods. She knew who she was—an Israelite, a servant of the God of heaven. She was generous and kind to her master, not because she was brainwashed, but because she truly understood the all-encompassing love of God. She had that rare
ability to recognize that what another person has done is truly wrong, yet to forgive them and wish
the best for them. Forgiving Naaman didn’t mean erasing who she was. It meant having the courage to stand up in that foreign place and speak the name of God’s prophet, to point her captor toward the God who could heal and forgive him.
Sometimes we experience conflict with people and we can honestly say, “There are two sides to the story. We were both to blame.” At other times, there’s a very clear right and wrong, and we can see that we and those around us have been the victims of evil. Like the slave girl, we have been hurt and abused by evil people and the evil system they serve.
In that situation it takes courage to go on being who you are, holding to your own values and beliefs. It takes even more courage to love your enemies, to reach out in genuine kindness to those who have hurt you.
Naaman must have respected the young slave girl. Perhaps he saw in her something of what we see as we read her story today. He recognized a unique individual who was capable of speaking with truth and love in a difficult situation. So he listened to her advice, and he did what she suggested. He went to the prophet Elisha, and he was healed of his leprosy.
We never learn the sequel to the story. Naaman returned to his home healed, declaring that he would “never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord” (2 Kings 5:17, NIV). The slave girl’s one-woman missionary effort had been a success, but as for her fate, we’re not told.
It would be nice to believe that as a reward for her good advice, Naaman freed her and returned her to her home. It would be nice to believe that she found her family still alive and enjoyed a joyous reunion with them. Maybe she did. Or perhaps she lived out the rest of her life as a slave in a foreign land, with her strong faith continuing to sustain her. Whatever her destiny, her brief appearance on the pages of Scripture reminds us all of how God calls us to react in difficult times.