A Thinking Reed

The 17th century French philosopher Pascal called man a “thinking reed.” He said in part,

“Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature,
but he is a thinking reed.” –Blaise Pascal

A reed is by its nature easily split or broken, something quite useless. A slender jointed stem often growing along the riverbed or in a swampy area, the reed has become a symbol of something that cannot be relied on, that is easily swayed or overcome.

But a “thinking reed”? While a “reed” speaks to the fragility of life, the “thinking” adds another dimension, a capability that belongs singularly to the human race. We may not be sturdy, but God has given us minds and the ability to reason, and for this reason we can THINK.

Those who have studied the science of thought explain that thinking is actually talking to oneself. It is a process of inner dialogue in which you tell yourself something and then respond to it, all subconsciously.

It is an inner conversation with ourselves, albeit a carefully supervised one, with each party sympathetic with the other. This may be good, if the side is right, but if not, the downward pull is made stronger.

Gehazi, servant of the prophet Elisha, had such a conversation with himself when he thought of the possibilities of having the gifts from Naaman that the prophet had refused.

Recall the situation. Following the instructions of Elisha, Naaman was overjoyed to be healed of leprosy. The chronicler says:

2 Kings 5:14  14So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Instinctively, grateful Naaman wanted to do something for the prophet in return for the miracle. 

2 Kings 5:15  15And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”

Naaman insisted that Elisha should take something in return.

2 Kings 5:16 16But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.

But Elisha was adamant: absolutely NO gifts. Then Naaman asked for a little of Israel’s soil to take home. Naaman asked also for “forgiveness in advance” for when he would go into the house of Rimmon to worship there. Elisha’s answer showed his understanding. 

2 Kings 5:19  19Then [Elisha] said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him a short distance.

No comment on that one! Elisha knew human nature.

Now comes Gehazi’s conversation with himself.

2 Kings 5:20–21 20But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as the Lord lives, I will run after him and take something from him.” 21So Gehazi pursued Naaman.

The thinking reed came alive! Great ideas! And yes, it all ended in grief. We know the rest of the story:

Gehazi’s lie to Naaman, saying his master had sent him.
Naaman’s offer of generous gifts for the prophet’s anticipated guests,
Gehazi’s next lie—to Elisha
Elisha’s reply
Gehazi a leper.

A few verses tell it all. We will read it from the New Living Translation

2 Kings 5:21–27 (NLT) 21So Gehazi set off after Naaman. When Naaman saw Gehazi running after him, he climbed down from his chariot and went to meet him. “Is everything all right?” Naaman asked. 22“Yes,” Gehazi said, “but my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.” 23“By all means, take twice as much silver,” Naaman insisted. He gave him two sets of clothing, tied up the money in two bags, and sent two of his servants to carry the gifts for Gehazi. 24But when they arrived at the citadel, Gehazi took the gifts from the servants and sent the men back. Then he went and hid the gifts inside the house.

Gehazi knew he was doing wrong, or why “hide” the gifts?

25When he went in to his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “I haven’t been anywhere,” he replied. 26But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants?

Elisha had power from God to heal leprosy – he also had power to “see” outside the normal range of vision.

Elisha also could deliver a judgment from God. He said to Gehazi,

27Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow.

How horrible! The dreadful the end of a “thinking reed” consulting with himself.

King Solomon was another who consulted with himself, with both consultants on the same side and without one thought of what God had blessed him with.

Ecclesiastes 1:16–17  16I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.

And again:

Ecclesiastes 2:1  1I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity.

And again:

Ecclesiastes 2:12  12Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly…

And again:

Ecclesiastes 2:15  15So I said in my heart, “As it happens to the fool, It also happens to me, And why was I then more wise?” Then I said in my heart, “This also is vanity.”

Solomon was drawing his own conclusion, consulting with himself.

Ecclesiastes 2:17  17Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.

Solomon as he continued in the same self-centered – disillusioned frame of mind.

Ecclesiastes 2:18  18Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 22For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun?

Now for a contrast. Look at the apostle Paul talking with himself. It is a discussion between two opposing voices, both in his mind, but one for the “new” nature and one for the “old.” The result was agonizing, but transforming! It comes to us in Romans, chapter 7.

Romans 7:19–24 19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

Here comes the struggle:

23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Paul was fighting it through. He was no feeble reed. He was strong. It was like a dialogue between his better and worse self. The better self was saying, “Yes I WILL.” The natural self was shouting back, “I will NOT.”

J. B. Phillips translates the last of this passage:

Romans 7:24 24Left to myself I serve the Law of God, with my mind, but in my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin. It is an agonizing situation.”

Agonizing, but not without hope—because Paul was THINKING – thinking forward, about what he was called to, and the victory in his mind that he could win.

Paul mastered the art of thinking—or how could he have written those profound epistles from prison?

Hour upon hour trudging down a rough or dusty highway, he had many hours to THINK. And he wasn’t thinking discouraging thoughts but keeping his mind fixed on the goal before him, the prize of immortal life.

Paul was no flimsy reed. He was like Jesus said of John the Baptist,

Matthew 11:7–11  7As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 10For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 11“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

How could the “least in the kingdom of heaven” be greater than John when Jesus had given John such high commendation?

There is only one answer: IMMORTALITY is greater than the greatest MORTAL.

This is another conversation we can have with ourselves. When we get the IMMORTAL level of life, all of mortality will be left behind.

In the meantime, what kind of thinking reed will you be, one with two sides pulling down, or one that contends with the other to pull you up?

That is a choice we make all the time.

So THINK when you THINK! And make sure the NEW nature wins the conversation!