May 24, 2024

Ruth & Naomi: Following God in Hard Times

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope or plan. When we face loss and disappointment, we may question if God is who He says He is. We can learn a lot about facing adversity from the story of Ruth and Naomi, who both lose everything they have but continue to move toward God.

In this episode, Whit and Chris discuss navigating suffering, wrestling with God, small steps of faithfulness, and God’s partnership with man.

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Naomi’s return to Bethlehem is marked by profound grief. Having lost her husband and sons, she feels the overwhelming weight of vulnerability and sorrow. Her life has taken a turn she could have never imagined.

When Naomi hears that God has visited His people, and presumably ended the famine, she decides to return to Bethlehem. Despite her plea for her daughters-in-law to stay behind, possibly out of shame or concern for their futures, Ruth remains by her side. Yet, Naomi feels she has nothing left. Grief often skews our emotions and perceptions, making it difficult to see the support and love around us.

Naomi: Lamenting Before the Lord

In Naomi’s eyes, her life is over, and she believes God is against her. This bitter lament echoes the story of Job, whose life also fell apart entirely.

Naomi’s decision to rename herself Mara, meaning “bitter,” reflects her deep sense of loss: “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted  me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).

Though what Naomi is saying is theologically incorrect, it’s emotionally true for her. This is really telling about the nature of lament. It’s important to have good theology, but this raw honesty in the face of suffering is a common biblical pattern we see throughout Scripture. Figures like Job and David cried out to God in ways that may not be theologically accurate but were authentic and honest.

The Bible does not shy away from the harsh realities of life. It presents the suffering of righteous individuals, such as Naomi and Job, who have to grapple with the emotional and spiritual aftermath.

It’s Okay to Wrestle with God.

These stories remind us that while we may not always understand why suffering occurs, we are invited to bring our whole selves to God and wrestle with Him through our pain.

Naomi doesn’t shy away from the reality of what she feels toward God, but she is willing to get near to the person she blames. God can always work with a bitter or reluctant heart moving toward Him.

Imagine a 2-year-old boy who is excited to rough house with his dad the moment he walks through the door. There’s a safety and freedom there, because the little boy knows he can’t significantly hurt his dad. It’s the same with God. There are things that grieve the Holy Spirit but wrestling with Him about how your life is going is not one of them. You can wrestle with God about the way you feel and think––He can handle it.

There is a difference between wrestling with God and critiquing Him.

This has everything to do with the distance you are from God. A critic stands at a distance and attacks to tear down. Wrestling with God involves engaging closely with Him, even in our pain and confusion. Pain, loss, and disappointment often leads to distance and bitterness.

Naomi’s harsh words about God come after she has returned to Bethlehem, indicating her willingness to draw near to God, despite her feelings of betrayal.

Naomi is willing to trust God with her heart even though she feels He’s the one who broke it.

Ruth: Bold Faith & Submission

Ruth is the kind of friend we all need in a time of crisis. She steps in to fill in the gaps where Naomi can’t, essentially saying, “I’ll take it from here.”

As Naomi laments before the Lord, Ruth’s boldness is met with God’s provision. Ruth does what she can with what she has, and God blesses it. She places herself in a position to be blessed by acting in faith and commitment to Naomi.

God works in specific times, in specific ways, and through specific people. This prompts us to ask ourselves, am I in the place God is blessing? It’s less about a geographical space and more about living in alignment with God’s ways.

Ruth isn’t out gleaning in the field trying to gain something for herself. She has made a commitment to Naomi and her people.

Is there something God has put in your hand that you can do something with? God often puts steps in front of us that don’t seem that significant, but small obedience is the starting point of partnership with Him: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).

The Broader Story of Redemption

The story of Ruth is also our story. As undeserving foreigners, we are welcomed into God’s family through faith. From the beginning, God has worked through those who draw near to Him, making room for them in His family. The book of Ruth reminds us to bring our authentic selves to the Lord and not forget where we came from.

Show Notes:

Listen to the Message: Faithfully Following God in the Face of Loss 

In this episode, Chris recommends these books:
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher Wright

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