Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Girl With No Name

Statue of Anonymus (Budapest)
In Budapest, they’ve built a statue to Anonymus.

To a modern reader, the Bible seems obsessed with names:

  • The genealogies of Genesis and the Gospels
  • The book-length census in Numbers – which is then repeated Deuteronomy
  • Lists of David’s soldiers
  • Paul’s greetings to Christians in other cities in his letters

This concern with names goes to the very beginning of the Bible: one of the first jobs that God gives Adam is to name all the animals.

Considering this emphasis on names, it’s surprising when the Bible features a person without telling us their name. When we’re told the names of everyone and his brother, the anonymous person jumps out as surprising and notable.

The Girl from Israel

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:1–3)

If you can, imagine yourself in the place of this young girl. Captured by Syrian raiders, now a slave in the house of one of the Syria’s top military leaders, there’s not a single reason why she should be concerned from Naaman’s health. For that matter, no one is asking for her thoughts about Naaman’s leprosy. It’s none of her business.

Further, she’s taking an enormous risk. Naaman is a powerful man. Should the cure not work, or if Naaman takes offense at her presumption, her life would be forfeit. Naaman, however, makes her idea an issue of international diplomacy.

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:4–6)

How does the king of Israel respond?

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” (2 Kings 5:7)

He is terrified of this request. The humble servant girl’s suggestion has brought her king to the edge of panic. Continue reading The Girl With No Name

Waiting for a Moment That May Never Come

Waiting is hard. 

One of my favorite poems is John Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness.” Today, we know Milton as one of the greatest poets of the English language, author of Paradise Lost, and featured in countless high school and college literature anthologies. When he wrote this poem, however, Milton was better known as a political writer and activist. He had supported Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War and been appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues for Cromwell’s Republican government.

In his mid–40s, though, Milton became completely blind. In an age before Braille, audiobooks, or computers, his career as a scholar and writer seemed to be over.

When I consider how my life is spent
    E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
    And that one Talent which is death to hide,
    Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, least he returning chide,
    Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,
    I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best
    Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
    And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
    They also serve who only stand and waite.

The poem is thick with Biblical allusions and reflection. Milton begins in despair over his blindness — “My life is spent.” This is not only depression over his physical condition, but a spiritual despair that he will no longer be able to serve God. Milton refers to his “one Talent,” an allusion to Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14–30), in which a master returns to his servants, expecting them to have invested their talents (then, a form of currency, but by Milton’s day, coming to mean “talent” in the modern sense) and gained a significant return. Milton’s “one Talent” — his ability to read and write — is now useless. Continue reading Waiting for a Moment That May Never Come

There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Made Man

A self-made man
This statue of a self-made man was, interestingly enough, made by someone else.

Few phrases bother me more than “self-made man.”

First, no one can literally make himself. Even if your parents contributed nothing more than the biological material out of which you were formed, other people were involved in your life from your earliest days. Even if their involvement did more harm than good, it’s still part of who you have become.

Even if the figurative sense, however, I strongly dislike the idea of a “self-made man.” It diminishes the fundamental connections between ourselves and other human beings, especially those which have laid the groundwork for our own achievements. Frederick Douglass, in his lecture “Self-Made Men”, provides a definition of the term:

Self-made men […] are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.

I think this is how most people use the term: a person who owes his success to no one else.

Yet Douglass qualifies the concept of “self-making” by stressing the importance of relationships and the work of past generations:

It must in truth be said though it may not accord well with self-conscious individuality and self-conceit, that no possible native force of character, and no depth or wealth of originality, can lift a man into absolute independence of his fellow-men, and no generation of men can be independent of the preceding generation. (Emphasis added)[1]

Do we give enough credit to the preceding generations who created the environment for our success? Going further, do we conceive of our work as preparing the world for future generations? Continue reading There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Made Man