Renewing of the Mind

Today I dropped off my little girl at her bus stop for her very first full-day of school in her young life.  She, giddy with excitement and completely ignorant of any bus stop hierarchy, immediately began chatting up the middle-schoolers crowded around her.  At the arrival of the bus she clambered aboard without a look over her shoulder and was gone, ready to face the day and the rest of her life.

About a month ago someone asked me what one characteristic I would want to instill in my children before they left home.  Being the father of two girls my lighthearted and immediate response was, “Chastity!”  My serious answer, however, is found in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12 “[to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

This is my greatest hope for my children.  It is that nurtured in the triangle of home, church and school she not conform the pattern of this world but is transformed by the renewing of her mind.  NT Wright uses an unexpected OT passage to help understand what exactly a renewed mind is.  Wright, pulling from 2 Kings 5, compares Naaman the Syrian general beset by leprosy, to Gehazi the servant of Israel’s most powerful prophet.

Naaman, desperate to be cured of his leprosy, follows the directions of Elisha the prophet and is healed.  He declares that now he knows there is no God in all the world other than the one that is in Israel.  His conversion, however, doesn’t immediately make him an orthodox follower of God.  He still needs to straighten out his thinking of God and his thinking of himself.

Rather comically Naaman asks to take two carloads of Israeli dirt with him back to Damascus thinking that this is how he can bring the true God of Israel with him.  He obviously doesn’t understand that Israel’s God is not tied to land or even the universe itself. But he is trying to figure out how to worship this new God of his.  It reminds me of a new convert to Christianity I met when I lived in the Dominican Republic.  She had recently been a practicer of Santeria and Voodoo.  In a worship service she was so moved by a song to her new God that she began doing a chicken dance common to voodoo ceremonies.  This is how worship was done in her mind, she didn’t know any better.  Like Naaman she was trying to figure out how to worship this new God of hers.

Naaman also confesses to Elisha that he will still worship in the pagan temple to the fake god Rimmon.  Not because he wants to, but because his king will expect it of him.  Namaan is aware of how compromised he is.  We half expect Elisha the prophet to unleash a lecture of orthodoxy upon Naaman.  But instead all he says is “Go in peace.”

Gehazi, the prophet’s servant, perhaps the person in all of Israel after Elisha himself who should have know what is right and how to worship God, betrays Elisha.  After Naaman heads home, his gifts of payment spurned by the prophet, Gehazi catches him up and asks for a payment.  Naaman gives it to him and Gehazi is compromised, though when he returns to Elisha he lies and denies it. He is struck down with Naaman’s leprosy.

What is the difference between Naaman and Gehazi?

In this story we have two very muddled men.  The difference between the two is movement.  Naaman is someone moving from darkness to light.  He is aware of how compromised he is.  He tries to straighten out his worship of God.  Gehazi, one who knows how to think of God, moves from light to darkness.

As my daughters grow older I pray that they move from darkness to light.  This is the renewing of the mind Paul speaks of.  It isn’t about knowledge but movement.  Movement towards God.  It isn’t about having the answers, but recognizing just how compromised we are by the patterns of this world and how desperately we need God.  My greatest desire is that the one characteristic my girls have when they leave home is a hunger and desire to move closer to their God.  That they be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

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One thought on “Renewing of the Mind

  1. Joel: Love the idea of movement, or the “trajectory of a soul” (or trajectory of a mind?). I’ve realized that this is often the key question when dealing with a person–not so much “Where are they”, but “Where are they *going*?” So, when (for instance) I’m dealing with someone stuck in a sin, the question that often guides the next step of discipline/discipling is about if they are turning toward their sin or turning to God.

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