Consideration of a portion of the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1.6-22)
A brief personal perspective
Naomi's relationship with the Lord might, focussing solely on the words of the text, be seen at first sight as somewhat ambivalent.
Although Naomi was left without a husband or sons after the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion1, it seems that it was not until "some time later" that she prepared to leave Moab and then only apparently because she "heard that the Lord had blessed his people by giving them a good harvest2".
Is her sudden move to return to her people prompted purely by the fact that they now have plenty in Bethlehem? I believe we have to consider 1.6 in the light of 1.1, where it is pointed out that "there was a famine in the land", hence the move to "live for a while"3 in Moab. This implies that the arrangement was only ever planned to be temporary and that now the famine is over it is time to make the return journey.
Yet it appears that Naomi does not return with joy but with bitterness; she expressly says "Almighty God has made my life bitter...the Lord Almighty has condemned me and sent me trouble4" and "The Lord has turned against me5". Such acerbity might be interpreted as being directed towards the Lord in anger and loss of faith, yet other verses appear to belie this.
For example, Naomi says "May the Lord be as good to you as you have been to...me6". Such an expression of faith in the Lord is reaffirmed in the very next verse: "May the Lord make it possible for...7".
This dichotomy of feeling towards the Lord continues to be something experienced by many people: we can so easily praise God when things go well for us but curse Him when things go badly! Perhaps this is human nature, which needs to be refined. What is interesting about Naomi is that although she is clearly bitter at the loss of her loved ones, her faith in the Lord holds strong as she evokes Him6 7 to bring about what she desires.
Naomi also makes a comparison6 between the love of the Lord and that shown by Naomi's Daughters-in-Law to her and to those who have died. This is an important point for Christians, the very people who - through their love for others - try to reflect God's love for us. As Christians, this is something we are all called to do.
These few verses from the Book of Ruth enable us to see God through the eyes of Naomi. We can perhaps understand her bitterness in the face of her attempts just to try to do the best for her family. We can also feel her strength in remaining faithful to the Lord. Certainly we face love head-on in the pages of Ruth; a stark reminder of that love which the Lord has for us and for all mankind.
What else can we learn and apply from this examination? We might consider the outward and return journeys made by Naomi and contrast these with some of the journeys we make in our own lives. Whilst we might not always see God walking with us on these journeys, with hindsight - as with the outcome of the book of Ruth, whereby Naomi becomes the Great-Great-Grandmother of David - God is nevertheless there and working out his purpose, often in very unexpected ways.
Tragedy, which may strike anybody at any time, should not necessarily prevent (indeed, it can enhance) our hearing of God calling us home. Yes, it might make us feel bitter and even test our faith yet, at the same time, if we could stand back and view the circumstances in a wider context, we might recognise God's hand in the greater scheme of things.
We are reminded in the Book of Ruth of the hope which the Lord brings if we remain faithful to Him and the fact, testified by so many, that good can triumph from seemingly tragic or difficult circumstances, if only we keep faith in God and allow Him to act in His way and in His time and, when he asks, for us to respond.
Let Naomi have the last word: "The Lord always keeps his promises to the living and the dead4".
1 Ruth 1.3 and 1.5
2 Ruth 1.6
3 Good News Bible
4 Ruth 1.20
5 Ruth 1.13
6 Ruth 1.8
7 Ruth 1.9
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire April 2016