The first chapter of Ruth sets the stage for a dramatic reversal. It’s the opening of a story and it immediately draws us into the despair of Naomi. At the end of the book’s opening chapter we are left with a very honest but not-so-pretty portrayal of her. She is a woman who has fallen on hard times–her husband has died and her sons have died, leaving her without any grandchildren, without any future.
Through all of the devastation she has become convinced that the Lord is out to get her. She believes–rightly of course–that God is in control, that God is sovereign, but she no longer believes that God is good. She looks at all that has happened to her and she decides that God is opposed to her; he must be. God is strong, but God is not loving. What other explanation could there be? How could a loving God allow all of this to happen to me?
Is there a darker place to be? Could you love or trust a God who is sovereign, who is all-powerful in this world, but who is not good? What kind of a God would that be? Who could worship such a God, a God who controls all things but who is evil or ambivalent, who just doesn’t care? That would be a mean and savage God, the kind of God we would all want to flee from.
No wonder, then, that Naomi is in despair. No wonder that she is so low. To believe that God is all-powerful, to believe that he demands our allegiance, but that he is opposed to us–that is terrifying. No one can trust a God like that. No one can truly love a God like that. Naomi has created a false image of God. Instead of allowing God to speak into her circumstances, she has interpreted God through those circumstances. When her life was good, God was good; now that her life has gone bad, she believes that God is bad.
Naomi has gone even farther. Not only has she made up a false image of God, a false representation of him in her mind, but she has also told others, “This is who God is.” She has blamed God for her problems and gossiped about him. She has told her daughters-in-law that the hand of God has gone out against her and has declared to the women of Bethlehem that the Lord has testified against her, and even more, the it is the Lord who has brought calamity upon her. “You want to know who God is? Let me tell you about him…”
In the opening chapter of the book, Naomi can barely lift her head. She declares that she is to be called Mara, “bitter,” one who is hated by the Lord. Yet by the end of chapter 2 she has undergone a dramatic reversal. Naomi’s faith has been restored and her heart is moved with praise to God. Now she speaks of “the Lord whose kindness has not forsaken us.” She has come to see that God is not out to get her. Her faith is restored and she knows that God has not turned his back on her; he has not forsaken her; he is for her; he loves her.
What has happened to Naomi? It’s simple: God has drawn her back. God has pursued her. God has not gotten offended by Naomi and left her to her own devices; he has not turned his back on her; he has not gossiped about her in return. Instead he has pursued her, he has loved her, he has continued to show her who he truly is. He has let his love, his character, do the talking.
Now this, this is the kind of God we love, the kind who reaches out to us in the midst of our suffering. When we are too weak, he is our strength. This is just the kind of God we so badly need in our darkest moments. And this is who God shows himself to be in the book of Ruth–the God who loves, the God who cares, the God who provides.
I preached from Ruth 2 on Sunday and in the middle of it I saw my own life. When people get me wrong, when people misinterpret me, when people take what I do in love and interpret it as hate, I am faced with the question: Will I respond with anger? Will I go looking for vindication? Will I counter-attack? Or will I just continue to love and continue to seek to show godly character? This applies to life within a local church, it applies to running a blog, it applies to being a husband and father–it applies to all of life.
I realized as I stood behind the pulpit that I was preaching to myself. I took that recognition, kind of moved it to the side of my mind, and just kept on preaching, to see what the Lord would show me. I came to see that I need to learn from God here. God did not defend himself to Naomi—he just showed his character and proved his love. He just went on loving her. He loved her through the love of Boaz, a man who poured out favor upon Ruth and her mother-in-law. Boaz was a man who showed love and generosity because he was a man who had been captured by a loving and generous God. Boaz’s favor was truly God’s favor. Naomi got God wrong and he drew her back by just continuing to love her.
Of course this is exactly what Jesus modeled as well. Even though he was hated and mocked and and spit upon, he did not open his mouth. He allowed his actions and his character and his love to speak loudest. And all that Jesus did, all that he was, speaks as loudly today as it did 2,000 years ago. Shouldn’t I, shouldn’t we, be willing to do the same?