On Ruth: Suffering

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lover for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Our Father in heaven never promised an easy life. Time and time again, his flock are reminded that to seek Christ, to go through the Son to get to the Father, is a demanding, often overwhelming path. Quite honestly, it is meant to forge Christian men and women into that which can best serve God’s glory. And you know what? That’s not even close to being an easy Crucible to run through.

Snapshot: Single parent juggles multiple part or full time jobs to make ends meet, put food in their children’s bellies, and weigh out which bill can be paid late.

Snapshot: Man loses his wife, children, and house in an accidental fire. Insurance says. “Sorry, but there just isn’t enough coverage.” He’ll have to find a bed to lay his head as he struggles to understand why he didn’t perish with everyone else.

Snapshot: Young man sits in an otherwise empty cell because he lost control for just a moment. Now, he’s potentially facing a lifetime behind bars or, at the very least, one full of guilt because of a mistake he can’t take back.

Every single person, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ, finds themselves walking a fine line between joy and suffering. As we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” I get it. Life can- and often does- suck. We’ve all heard the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear.” If we are being honest, most of us don’t agree. Hey, we’re human. Life is tough. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16). Life is hard, but God is bigger than any burden. So it isn’t that he gives more than we can handle because He is much bigger than ALL our troubles.

A lot of times we, as Christians, look towards scripture for examples of suffering and God’s grace. There is Jesus, of course, and Peter, Joseph, David… pretty much everyone of note in the Bible is riddled with times of suffering. Reflect on this: Pointless suffering does not exist; rather, there is only suffering that should- if we allow it- draw us closer to God. Let’s take at Ruth for now.

A little context: the story of Ruth takes place during a volatile time for God’s children, the age of the Judges. Here are three important people to remember as we discuss the Story of Ruth.

  1. Naomi – the Israelite, Ruth’s mother-in-law, widowed, lost her children
  2. Ruth – Moabitess, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, dutiful. Faithful, pagan
  3. Boaz – family redeemer, good man, Israelite

Though not as important, we should also note the other daughter-in-law, Orpah.

At this time, there was a great famine in the land. Now, “when Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had came to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there” (Ruth 1:6).

Point 1: God is master over our calamity.

Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, so she would not be responsible for them anymore. Orpah, the second daughter-in-law initially came with them until Naomi commanded the women to turn back. We will get into Ruth’s response a little later, but for now, it’s important to note that Orpah obeyed.

Think of it this way. Moab can represent the world, which is complete with the things we know and are familiar with, regardless of if they are good or bad for us. At the time, Moab was afflicted by famine. And yet, there are familiarities to latch onto: families, the land Orpah had grown up in, even the known hardships. Naomi commanded the younger women to “Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?…” (Ruth 1:11). It is important to note what Naomi said later in the passage when they tried to follow her. It is also important to note that Orpah did not initially want to leave. Naomi said, “No my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:!3). Even though she was determined to go home, she felt the Lord wasn’t on her side. This is a common thought Christians have when life isn’t going our way.

It’s easy to retreat back towards what we know, especially when we think God is against us. Remember the snapshots? Each scenario displays circumstances where the person could, as Naomi did, believe the Lord had set His might against them. A commonplace thing among humans is the propensity to wallow in the hurt. Oh sure, most people are absolutely justified in their hurt, but God commands us to turn it over to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 commands us to go about “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Likewise, Psalm 55:22 states, “Turn your burdens over to the Lord, and he will take care of you…”

We must remember God holds dominion over all things. That includes the times when it feels life has stacked all the cards against us. Understand, because we are given free will, we can make the decision to separate ourselves from God. He lets us destroy ourselves (this does not mean He does not love us). Sometimes, the fall seems hopeless. Sometimes, where we fall is into a pit whose only escape is into a position we might not like or want.

Point 2: God pushes us forward on His terms.

Let’s go back to our snapshots really quick. The first is a woman struggling to survive in a life where she must choose between necessities. The second is a man who must start over after the most devastating events one can imagine, all with the compelling desire to surrender. The third… well, I think that’s pretty obvious. But going biblical, imagine the first as Naomi, the second as Job, and the third as Peter (remember when he cut the soldier’s ear off). God had purpose for their struggles. God did not abandon them to their hurts.

God cannot control our circumstances if He isn’t the supreme God. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but He’ll let us arrive at this conclusion if we want. But, we can also accept He is a benevolent father, guiding us through our troubles. We’re human and don’t always want our circumstances. Sure, they aren’t always ideal; we can choose, then, to handle them gracelessly- as Naomi did- or with class, as Ruth did, which we see in her entreaty at the end of the section. Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). She had every reason to turn back, as her fellow daughter-in-law did, to the world she knew. So many of us are like Orpah; we consciously accept trouble when it comes from waters we’re familiar with, instead of risking greater reward and maintaining faith. Ruth made the harder choice. She followed Naomi, despite the older woman’s desire for her to leave, to a future of unknowns, where there were not obvious outcomes. She did it and next time, we’ll look into what happened when the two women reached Judah.

For now, let me ask you this. Does your fear of present circumstances outweigh the trust you have in God’s plan for your life? Does your suffering foster a need for Him? Or, do you share Naomi’s sentiment that the Lord has gone out against you? Do you mirror Orpah’s actions and retreat to the world you knew? Leave it at the cross friends. Leave your cares to the Father. Life is hard, but God is so much bigger than anything you carry.