The Book of Ruth is set in a bleak period after Israel enters the promised land, and before the time of kings. Ruth’s story takes place in the time of the judges and comes just as the Book of Judges ends with a night-long gang rape of one woman and the communal abduction and rape of six hundred women. It’s a time of anarchy and it’s profoundly difficult for women.
And yet, Ruth details a redemptive story entirely from the perspective of women.
The story begins in Moab at the scene of Naomi’s despair. Famine has forced her family to Moab, where they live as immigrants in a land not their own.
Naomi has lost her two sons and her husband, and she’s responsible for two foreign daughters-in-law. She has no status, no security, no identity, no dignity, she is of no value.
She’s feeling broken and bereft. Naomi and her daughters- in-law are making preparations for the journey from Moab to Bethlehem where there is food. Bitterness towards God begins to blur her thinking.
This bitterness starts in our hearts when we sense there is an unfairness, an injustice, a sense where we’ve been wronged. What we want begins to shape our thinking more than what God wants. When our expectations are not in alignment with what God wants, bitterness blurs our thinking and actions.
In one breath Naomi expresses recognition of God’s kindness, provision and care in relation to her and her daughters-in-law, then in the next breath her bitterness discredits God’s goodness: “...the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
It is in the depths of Naomi’s despair that Ruth, one of her Moabite daughters-in-law, clings to Naomi: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried”.
Have you been allowing bitterness to grow?
There has been potential for bitterness developing in the months since the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, a sense of injustice and unfairness.
Why isn’t the media following the massacres of Christians across the world?
Why does the media refuse to share a Christian point of view on moral or ethical issues?
What about the Church? What about the people of God? Do they count? Do they have worth? What about my people, what about me?!
We may feel resentment towards the media for not acknowledging the worth, value and significance of the people of God. We must be careful, because bitterness can quickly lead to blurry thinking about God and ultimately a bitterness towards God.
Bitterness that makes us fearful at the very moment we need faith.
Bitterness that makes us fragile at the very time we need to be fearless.
Bitterness that leads us to freeze at the very moment we can be fruitful.
As an Australian blogger recently wrote:
“Jesus warned that those who follow him would be hated and persecuted. The suffering of the people of God is not news to him. He weeps over those who are martyred, and so should we. He has promised to be with us in the furnace of persecution, but he hasn’t promised to spare us from it. Why? One reason must be he knows how short our
lives are and how glorious our futures are with him. God bears witness to his Son in our weakness, in our suffering, in our lowliness. God is working in the Church’s pain and persecution to bring about his glorious purposes and promises. The suffering of God’s people has been a profound witness to his greatness and goodness for centuries.”
Something better from the bitter
Naomi and Ruth make the difficult journey from Moab to Bethlehem, and Naomi’s bitterness is so deep, so painful, that her whole identity is shaped around it. “Call me ‘Mara’,” she says. “Call me ‘bitterness’”.
The black hole of bitterness has reshaped her understanding of God: The larger Naomi becomes in her bitterness the less she is able to see God. This kind of bitterness draws us into the centre, it makes us big and God small, it makes us fear the very people we are trying to reach.
This kind of bitterness turns our focus from God’s global cross-cultural purposes and leads us to think more about our own preservation than God’s multicultural plans. In Naomi’s moment of bleakness, in her bitterness, in her blindness, can you see God is doing something better?
To Naomi, God gives Ruth.
To Ruth, God gives Boaz, who acts as their redeemer.
To Boaz and Ruth, God gives a baby.
A baby, who will become a descendant of King David, who will become a descendant of the King of Kings.
In Naomi’s bleakness, in her bitterness, even in her blindness, God is doing something better. God is working out his purposes to redeem her socially, financially, to restore her status in the society.
In Naomi’s bitterness God is working to redeem us. From Ruth’s baby, 30 generations later, would come the one who would rescue us from our sin, redeem us from evil and deliver us from death.
Jesus Christ who, without sin, would cry in the bleakest of moments “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In his moment of holy bitterness, Jesus is the one who rescues and restores us.
In the bleakest, darkest moments of our nation God has not left us, God has not forsaken us. In these very moments he is doing something better. He is bringing about his global purposes. He is working to bring a people from every tribe and tongue to himself.
We don’t need to be bitter; we don’t need to be blinded. Because of Jesus we can open our hearts and eyes to our triune God and trust that he is doing something better across these islands, at this time.
Written by CCCNZ Ambassador Mark Grace in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque Terror Attacks 2019.