In “A Journey to Wholeness,” Mark Belz, a retired lawyer and former moderator of the PCA General Assembly, takes a close look at the story of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5. In this narrative, Belz finds a truth that Christians often forget: how the good news of the Gospel leads to reconciliation with God and with one another.

Belz maintains that the work of reconciliation is something all Christians are called to, a message especially relevant to the PCA after the 2015 General Assembly and the Personal Resolution on Civil Rights. In light of this and other recent events, Adam Joyce talked with Mark Belz about the lessons we can learn about reconciliation — especially racial reconciliation — from this Old Testament story.

In “A Journey to Wholeness,” you engage and unpack the story of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5, arguing that it teaches us how reconciliation with God necessarily involves reconciliation with each other. What does this mean, and how exactly does the story teach this?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This means we cannot worship with integrity unless we are reconciled with our brothers and sisters. Lateral reconciliation isn’t just an option; it is a command.

We can’t be truly and completely reconciled with God unless we are reconciled with one another, and we can’t be reconciled with one another unless we are reconciled with God. We are family.

In 2 Kings 5, the little slave girl probably didn’t grasp the full import of what she was doing, but she brought this sort of reconciliation about. The narrative begins with a description of the Syrian general Naaman — mighty and highly valued by his king. But he had leprosy. His little Jewish slave girl told Naaman’s wife to suggest to Naaman that he “go see the prophet in Israel — he would heal him.” So Naaman, by faith, went, and with some resistance obeyed the prophet Elisha’s command to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was healed of his leprosy, came back to Elisha, and testified that “now I know that there is no God in all the earth except Israel’s God.” This Syrian general, an enemy of Israel, stood there in Elisha’s front yard and gave glory to Jehovah God.

The little girl’s enthusiastic but quiet witness is a poignant example of effective Gospel witness. Like Jesus when he saw the blind man by the side of the road, what she saw in an enemy of Israel was a poor soul who desperately needed help. She couldn’t provide that help, but she pointed him to someone who could and who would. As a result, her master came to faith in the “God of all the earth” and crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).

So many readings of this story concentrate on Elisha, Naaman, and Gehazi, but you spend a lot of time unpacking the actions of the nameless Israelite slave girl — how, even amidst oppression, she was “with and for” Naaman. What do her specific actions have to teach us about the work of reconciliation?

First, the little girl didn’t try to do it herself. She simply pointed her finger to Elisha, and thus to the Lord, because Elisha spoke for God. Second, it wasn’t complicated. She was just a little girl who spoke simply and directly. Surely she did not comprehend it all, but she gave a message to a heathen man, and in faith he followed her direction, was healed, and came to know the God the earth. Third, she took up Naaman’s cause, not just the Lord’s. She was deeply concerned for him, not just her testimony. Thus she was with him and for him. He could tell.

The incarnation, and indeed the entire Gospel, is embodied by what this girl did. As Jesus stepped into our shoes, so did she. She took up Naaman’s point of view, concerns, needs, and helplessness. But she did not merely sympathize and weep with him; she told Naaman where he could be healed. When Jesus came in the flesh, He did not come merely to cry with us either, but to give us the exact help that we need.

American culture is unquestionably individualistic; we view the individual as the primary unit and foundation of society. Yet, you argue that 2 Kings 5 importantly teaches how: “[R]econciliation is corporate work. We are not in it alone.” How does this story critique and help us resist the temptation to believe that individuals can accomplish reconciliation on their own?

There is something great about individualism, so long as it is understood to involve personal responsibility and grit. It did, in an important way, build our nation. But it can easily lead to pride and a self-reliance. This infects the church. I’m in the middle of rereading Acts, and the Apostles, who had more grit than anyone in history, constantly relied on others in the church. They took companions like Mark, Barnabas, Silas, and others with them. They implored the churches to pray for them. They wrote follow-up letters to the congregations. They hurt when they hurt; they rejoiced when they rejoiced. And they listened to one another (the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15), and then acted accordingly.

All of this, as Paul put it, was “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). We absolutely cannot do it alone. And the Lord knows that, so He gave us the church.

One of the most powerful and recent pictures of forgiveness we have is the family members of the victims in the Charleston church shooting offering forgiveness to the shooter. There is deep grief here, but there is also an extraordinary hope. You talk about the work of reconciliation being based upon a “solid hope.” Could you talk more about what forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation looks like amidst pain, suffering, and deep wounds?

Yes. Can you imagine, in 2015 America, this kind of forgiveness? Even if the witness doesn’t penetrate the heart of the young man who murdered these believers, it is a powerful witness to the world. The media seemed mystified at the response of the bereaved families, because to the world justice means revenge. But the black believers in Charleston know that, based on the work of the Holy Spirit, the only answer is forgiveness and reconciliation.

I believe that many of us in the church harbor our grudges and thus forfeit the joy and freedom that could be ours (Jonah 2:8). The Charleston brothers and sisters have something that far exceeds a grudge, and they are teaching us that true freedom and joy come through forgiveness and reconciliation.

When I was a lawyer, I once represented a man and his wife whose teenage daughter had been murdered with a shotgun. The father harbored his rage and told me on numerous occasions how he wanted to kill the man who did the awful deed. He wanted to do it with his own hands and for the man to suffer as long as possible before he died. The guilty man was imprisoned for a short time and then released. But the one who is really imprisoned — and it seems for life — is the girl’s father because he could not forgive.

If we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters when they offend us, we are prisoners too. We are commanded to reconcile with them if possible, and thus be released from the prison we have built around ourselves.

You discuss how the Gospel is a threat to false security and easy reconciliation — how the “messy and painful business” of reconciliation requires intrusiveness, humility, and solidarity. What might this mean, especially in light of the 43rd General Assembly and the Personal Resolution on Civil Rights? How might the story of Naaman, and the lessons about reconciliation we can learn from it, provide guidance to the PCA as it grapples with its racial history?

I was so gratified this year when the PCA General Assembly, as a whole, recognized the urgent need for reconciliation and solidarity with minority populations, especially African-Americans. Dr. Jim Baird is one of the founding fathers of PCA. He and others like Frank Barker, Jack Williamson, and Bob Cannada led the way for us in 1973, and after that. They were Southerners and would agree that they and their churches carried a lot of the baggage (as did we Northerners) of racism. That’s just who we were in the ’60s.

But these men were also totally committed to Scripture, and that makes all the difference. They were Men of the Book. When I was privileged to serve as moderator of General Assembly in 1991, I saw this. I couldn’t see everyone from the podium, but those I did see had their Bibles in hand, along with their loose-leaf binders (the irritating snapping sound was constant). From my vantage point I couldn’t tell what version they were using, but they all had the Word of God in their hands. As we tend to the Word, as long as we hold true to it and seek the work of the Holy Spirit as we read it, we will find the truth and will be motivated to obey. The first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith says, in part:

“(O)ur full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof [of Scripture], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”

At the 2015 General Assembly, Jim Baird and others displayed the work of the Holy Spirit, both in head and heart, and their confession and testimony are a great encouragement for all of us to seek true, biblical reconciliation. This can happen only in the church.

We are covenant believers, not Pharisees, but we can be pharisaical. That is, we can too easily trust our heritage, as wonderful as it is. Trusting a narrow heritage always tends to exclude others, and we take false security in differences. The little slave girl, amazingly, saw beyond this. She saw no real difference between herself and her master, Naaman. He needed help. She knew what that was like because she had always needed help too. She recognized that every human being is equally needy of healing and is worthy of equal respect before the Creator God.

What we can learn from the little girl is at least this: There are no human categories that matter. The world is alive to office, position, power, awards, fame, etc. The Gospel is blind to all of that. Just think how Naaman’s slave girl exemplifies this kind of wonderful blindness. She was the slave, he was the owner; she the weak, he the strong; she was poor, he was rich; she was unknown, he was famous; she was a Jew, he was a Gentile; she a child, he an adult; she a child of the covenant, he a heathen. None of these categories mattered at all in her sight, or in God’s sight.

Nor does it matter for us. Jim Baird said it well, and this is at the heart of what happened this summer at General Assembly. This is a great foundation for PCA ministry — a renewed beginning here in 2015.

The PCA is a church grounded in the truth of Scripture. What a great thing it would be if we, as a church, could become known as “the church without categories.” When we come to the cross, we can relax in the truth that the Gospel is for all — there is no “us” and “them” when we kneel before the Lord.