Boxing the Lord In
In the Old Testament, we learn about Naaman, the powerful commander who had delivered the Syrian army in a great battle. A respected man and natural leader, Naaman was held in high regard among many.
However, that doesn’t seem to be why his story is in the scriptures. Naaman was a leper, and because his wife’s handmaid knew of a prophet in Samaria, Naaman was part of an incredible miracle. The story leading up to that miracle is where we will begin our study about “boxing the Lord in.”
Once Naaman discovered there was a way to be healed, he rode to Samaria with his chariots, a large sum of money, and, it seems, the beginnings of faith. However, when he got to the house of Elisha, the prophet did not come out to meet him. Instead, he sent out his servant, who told Naaman to go down and wash himself seven times in the river Jordan to become cleansed of his leprosy.
This angered Naaman, and he exclaimed, “Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So, he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:11-12).
Although there might be many reasons why Naaman was angered — including pride or misunderstanding or cultural tradition — there could be at least one other explanation: Naaman might have been upset because nothing in that experience ended up going the way he thought it should: “Elisha should have come out to meet me.” “He was supposed to do something dramatic and perform a miracle right then.” “Surely, he could have asked me to go bathe in some other river?”
In other words, Naaman had set parameters for how he was to be healed. He “boxed the Lord in.” And because the Lord’s help didn’t fit in that box, Naaman wanted nothing to do with it.
Thankfully, we know that’s not how the story ends. One of Naaman’s servants was brave enough to ask him this important question: “Just because you didn’t get the respect you thought you would, and just because this hasn’t gone the way you thought it should, does that mean it is not of God?” It seems this servant didn’t have a box for the answers to fit in. Naaman then chose to humble himself and went down into the Jordan seven times “according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v. 14).
Naaman wanted to be healed of his leprosy. Yet, God seemed to have greater things in mind. He wanted to heal Naaman, not just of a skin disease, but of what was keeping Naaman from finding true joy and peace, even what was keeping Naaman from finding Him. So, He sent Naaman an answer that wasn’t in his “box.”
Sometimes, we carry around a similar box: a mental receptacle meant to receive the answers, help, or comfort we are seeking from the Lord. Our box, whether intentionally or not, sets the parameters of not only what He is supposed to do for us, but also how and when and where He is supposed to do it. We limit the Lord by “boxing Him in.”
I find that we might not necessarily set these parameters because we think we know more than God. Instead, it might be because we think we know our specific situation better than He does, or at least that we, like Naaman, know what we want in that situation. However, when we dictate how revelation works in our lives, we can diminish what revelation we receive in our lives.
The prophet Moses was once given a grand vision of the lifespan of the earth and all God’s children who ever had and ever would live on it. After many hours, he had been shown evidence through his spiritual eyes that “man is nothing,” something he “never had supposed” (Moses 1:10-11; emphasis added). Sometimes God’s higher and more holy answers fall somewhere out of our box simply because they are something we never had supposed.
Elder W. Craig Zwick tells of an experience he had as a Mission President with a young elder who announced the first day he arrived at the mission that he wanted to go home. Elder Zwick shared that he was sure, through long-suffering and encouragement, he could help this elder change his mind. Yet, after three agonizing weeks, the elder still wanted to go home.
Then, Elder Zwick said, “It finally occurred to me that I might not have the whole picture. It was then that I felt a prompting to ask him the question: ‘Elder, what is hard for you?’ What he said pierced my heart: ‘President, I can’t read.’ The wise counsel that I thought was so important for him to hear was not at all relevant to his needs. What he needed most was for me to look beyond my hasty assessment and allow the Spirit to help me understand what was actually on this elder’s mind. He needed me to see correctly and offer a reason to hope. Instead, I acted like a giant demolition wrecking ball. This valiant elder did learn to read and became a very pure disciple of Jesus Christ. . . . What a blessing it is when the Spirit of the Lord widens our view.”[i]
With neither intention nor knowledge of doing so, Elder Zwick had essentially come to the Lord with an assumption of what that young man needed; he had boxed in the revelation for this elder. A single open-ended question removed that box, allowing the Lord to bless the lives of both men and probably countless others.
Sometimes what God is trying to teach us, or what the solution to a problem is, falls outside of the area of our understanding or expectations. God’s higher ways always take into account things we don’t know and cannot see. Just because that’s where the revelation falls doesn’t mean it’s not from Him nor that it’s wrong.
If we will truly allow our Father to guide us — without parameters, without stipulations — He can and will guide us in ways we cannot even comprehend.
[i] “Lord, Wilt Thou Cause That My Eyes Shall Be Opened,” Ensign, November 2017
“Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
"Naaman wanted to be healed of
"He wanted to heal Naaman, not just of a skin disease, but of what was keeping Naaman from finding true joy and peace, even what was keeping Naaman from finding Him."
"What a blessing it is when the