“When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, ‘Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.’ Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were. So they poured it out for the men to eat. And it came about as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out and said, ‘O man of God, there is death (poison, NLT) in the pot.’ And they were unable to eat. But he said, ‘Now bring meal.’ And he threw it into the pot, and he said, ‘Pour it out for the people that they may eat.’ Then there was no harm in the pot.’” – 2 Kings 4:38-41
“and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them” – from Mark 16:18.
While my ponderings here are not direct exegesis of the passages above, I want to incorporate two themes from them in a broader discussion. I recently attended a Christian conference where I presented a paper. I sat in on the four plenary sessions and attended other sessions during the conference to hear what others had to say on a myriad of topics. Some of the sessions addressed key hot topics in current Church discourse including interfaith dialog, sexual orientation, environmentalism, evolution, and so on. Some of what was shared was, to put it mildly, pushing the envelope of orthodoxy. As I listened, I also prayed that God would give me ears to hear and eyes to see what He was up to in this conference and within me in particular in being present to hear and see the goings on. In the end, I had to walk away clinging to the unity of the Spirit present within each who claim Christ as Lord and Savior no matter where we might disagree on doctrine or praxis. That is a very tall order.
I came away with the impression that God’s intention in my learning by being there was twofold, both requiring self-reflection and Bible reflection.
First, as seems always to be the case, the conference presented an opportunity to rely on God for discernment, that is, for discerning the spirit of the things being shared (1 Corinthians 12:10). That is most often accomplished by “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This latter is a reliance on the voice of the Holy Spirit, especially as it unfolds the Bible’s meanings for us.
Hebrews 5:14 says “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Two questions arose. 1) Am I “mature” in Christ, able to discern good and evil? And, 2) what was I discerning? Mostly, I discerned truth in love, I believe. The heart of compassion of most of the presenters seemed apparent. Their intentions seemed good no matter what I might think of their general approach or methodologies. On the other hand, some presentations left me a bit uneasy. But discernment only works if I can also rightly divide between that which disturbs my flesh (ego) – “I don’t really want to think ‘X’ is acceptable, because I want to cling to what I ‘know’” – or my spirit – “This is something I need to be open to to grow in Christ because, in this, I am falling short.” As should be obvious, any disturbance in one has a corresponding disturbance in the other.
Second, I need to be exposed to ideas that make me uncomfortable, to force me into deeper prayer and study and to allow the Holy Spirit to convict me where my own views are less than holy and to strengthen me where I may have already arrived at Truth. Let us consider the two passages above in this approach.
The stew was made with the fruit of wild plants. Everything from God is good but not everything in creation is now good given the introduction of sin into the world at Adam’s fall. The Bible consistently encourages us that creation reveals the glory of God. We do not know what that fruit (the gourds thrown into the pot in the passage above) was, just that it obviously was not good. But Elisha added meal, some form of ground flour or corn, to the pot, and the stew was made good. He did not eliminate that which we might have equated to sin (death) in the pot . . . he redeemed it, making it good, by the simple addition of one more ingredient, what we call grace, which “removed” (or at least, neutralized) the poisoning effect of the bad fruit.
Consider that in light of my exposure to new ideas or ways of thinking theologically or interpreting biblically. Both knowing God (theology) or the Bible thoroughly are beyond the comprehension of any single mind or lifetime. We all “see as through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). This is simply a function of our finitude in the face of an infinite God. So, I should always be aware of my limitations and understand that in those quarters where I fall short of God’s holiness (many of which I am blind to), exposure to new ideas will disturb the status quo. But in those areas, the introduction of that one new ingredient may well be God’s redemptive stroke to transform me incrementally from glory to glory into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), moving me along the path of growing intimacy with God.
On the other hand, what if that one new idea is a deception, either as a come-on by the enemy or a worldly temptation to satisfy my own flesh (ego)? Should I cloister myself behind the walls of a fortress to guard myself from such possibilities? I think not, as the Psalmist wrote: God goes before us (into spiritual battle) and is also our rear guard (139:5). Hence, I can be assured that what may be poisonous (Mark 16:18 above) will not harm me. I believe and can trust in this only insomuch as I believe God is greater than any threat that other influences may represent. Again, as the Psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (23:4). Why? Because perfect love casts out fear, even of judgment if I should stumble (1 John 4:18) and because God is (perfect) love (1 John 4:8). Who (or what) can stand against me? (Romans 8:31). Whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1).
But why would we willingly enter into discussion with those we may even think are advancing the enemy’s agenda unawares? For one, we cannot witness to those with whom we have no contact. We cannot find a child lost in the woods if we stay on the safe, beaten path and avoid the risks of entering the treacherous terrain of the wilderness. But we can enter any place with confidence before the roaring lion seeking our destruction (1 Peter 5:8) because we are assured that the gates of Hades will not prevail against God’s Church (Matthew 16:18). That is, the Church, by taking the battle to the enemy and attacking those gates, will triumph over death itself just as Christ has already done. And, entering that battle, we “do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28a).
God is on the offensive in the spiritual battle for the redemption of all creation. The Incarnation was God walking right into the enemy’s camp, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). In those environs we do not have to be offensive and combative . . . we need only be holy and present according to the pattern of Jesus coming to the world in the flesh. Holy presence changes things but only as love / holiness is willing to self-sacrifice. Jesus said “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). Demonstrate the living presence of God in your life in sacrificial ways. Embrace them and support them where you can. Show them you mean them no harm. Even allowing their ideas and words to be stirred into your pot, remember all the while that where the stew may be made poisonous, a little meal of the Bread of Life, can make it sweet and nourishing. Only by our own sacrifice, leaving our safe houses and running the risk of being rejected, even killed, may redemption come! Living for God in the face of death (separation from God) in the world is our calling to follow Jesus.
One of the most influential writings in history, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, mandatory reading for any candidate for military leadership, offers sage advice for Christians. Sun Tzu admonishes would-be warriors to “know thy enemy.” He also advises to “know thyself.” This is exactly why sports coaches constantly watch film of their upcoming opponents. Everyone has weakness(es). By close observation, those weaknesses can be perceived in the opponent and in ourselves, the former to serve as the target of our attack, the latter the place of our own shoring up. Even when we fail, the redemptive stroke is in our reflection to understand where our breakdown came.
Judo is another good example where the kinetic energy of the attacker is turned against the attacker. What the attacker perceives as strength – their speed and agility – becomes their downfall. David slew Goliath because Goliath’s ego had convinced the giant that he was so powerful as to be beyond any measure of attack from the puny Israelites. His pride, the ego behind the forehead penetrated by David’s stone, was his downfall.
Two more Bible stories show us that when we enter into the camps of the enemy, God goes before us. When Gideon’s 300 broke their clay pots, confusion reigned in the enemy’s camp and the Midianites were turned against each other, slaying their own comrades and ending in the utter destruction of that army (Judges 6-7). We find also that Jonathan and his armor bearer were able to overcome the Philistines by first putting themselves at risk then, by the boldness of their action, all of Israel, even those cowering in fear in the hills, was rallied to triumph and set the people free (1 Samuel 14:1-23).
In the end, just as Daniel was encouraged and strengthened by God (Daniel 10:19), we need not fear coming under the oppressive power of any enemy. Victory in Christ is already ours. We can eat of whatever is set before us without fear of our own corruption (Acts 10) but by so doing, we may gain access for witness to the unholy, like the smallest lamp dispelling the deep darkness of a place previously without light. Stir the pot of your own thinking. Expose yourself to the ideas that may now offend and the people expressing tem. Let God add the meal, to be the wheat of your consumption, to sweeten the pot and bring whatever seems poisonous to redemption.