In a world full of tragedy, heartache, and tainted love, it’s easy to become jaded and struggle with the thought that God is good. You may have cried out, “Where are you, Lord? How can you be good in this circumstance?!”
If you ever prayed or felt like that, you’re not alone. That prayer has been expressed by many today, as well as the saints before us. I’m sure on Good Friday, the disciples may have expressed this anguish. I’m sure Adam, Noah, Moses, Paul, John the Baptist, all had felt these feelings. And we know that Naomi felt this.
The book of Ruth is the story of an unlikely woman who is loyal and loving to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, after she is widowed herself. Naomi had lost everything, so she thought. She lost her husband and her two sons, and in her mourning she renamed herself “Mara,” which means bitter because she believed the Lord had treated her bitterly. But God uses Ruth to redeem the family and to become part of the lineage of Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer. Here are three things we can learn from Ruth when we walk through hardship:
Love Is Not Transactional
As Naomi starts returning to Bethlehem, she urges her two daughters-in-law to go home where they can remarry and be with their families. She makes an argument of how she cannot have any more children, and even if she could, her daughters-in-law couldn’t wait until they were old enough to provide for them. One of them leaves. But surprisingly, Ruth stays. Ruth responds with this amazingly loving commitment to Naomi saying, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. This may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Naomi’s perception of God’s love toward her was transactional. She renames herself “bitter” because of how she believes she’s being treated by God. Likewise, Naomi’s perception of her love from her daughters-in-law was transactional, believing she had to produce sons for their love. We often relate with others the way we relate to God.
In contrast, Ruth expresses unconditional love for Naomi. She is leaving her home, family, and everything she knows to stay with her mother-in-law. This is not because she is gaining anything out of being with Naomi, except Naomi. God loves you, not to gain anything out of you. He loves you, because He loves you. No transaction required.
God’s Law Is Loving
When we get lost in what to do, it’s helpful to have some direction in how to live. God has given us direction, or laws, on how to live to find life most flourishing. Boaz enters this story when Ruth finds herself in his field collecting leftover harvest from his crop. Boaz obeys the Mosaic law by letting the impoverished glean behind his workers. But he doesn’t stop there. He shows compassion for Ruth and provides water, food, and safety. He ends up redeeming Ruth by marrying her, which would have possibly never happened had Boaz not followed the law. The law helped him know how to love deeply and meet the needs of Ruth.
When facing difficult circumstances, don’t turn away from God’s law. Acknowledge your grief and anger, but don’t rebel against God. God’s law is loving and meant to lead us into greater life, joy, and flourishing.
A Perfect Kingdom is Coming
Ruth’s unconditional love for Naomi, her humility, and her character pointed forward to a better day coming. The great love she had is a reflection of the Greatest Love, Jesus. This story ends in redemption. Ruth marries Boaz. They have a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David, from whom came the lineage of the Messiah, Jesus. But if you think about it, Ruth does not get to meet Jesus or even know she is a part of that big picture story while she is living on earth. And that’s the tension of the kingdom coming. We get to see glimpses, we get to take part, but we have to have faith that there is a bigger picture God is orchestrating. Why? Because that’s what is actually consistent across time.
Our current timeframe may be full of devastation and there might not be any sense to be made of it. So the truth to hold on to is not that it is okay when it isn’t; the truth is God desires to redeem. He promises never to leave, He promises to wipe every tear, He asks us to pray for His kingdom to come.
Ruth may not have known the big storyline she was a part of, but she did know she was a part of redeeming her family from their devastation. Through her family came Jesus. From His devastation came the redemption of the world. And now in our own storyline, no matter how devastating they may be, we can find redemption through Jesus.
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