I’m sure many have asked the question where is God in the midst of crisis or suffering. Maybe you’ve asked it as a result of the coronavirus pandemic with all the suffering and uncertainty, the loss of loved ones, uncertainty about your job, or the treatment you need is not forthcoming.
I’ve recently been reading and studying the book of Ruth, and my what a book. The story is placed in Israel’s turbulent history at the time of the judges when everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes – Israel just wasn’t a good place to live.
At some point there’s a severe famine and a man named Elimelech takes his wife Naomi and two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, to Moab to find food, to provide for his family. During their time there Mahlon and Kilion marry two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Then Elimelech dies, followed a bit later by Mahlon and Kilion, leaving Naomi and her daughters in law.
The question stares you in the face, where is God in it all? Some have suggested the famine was God’s judgment on Israel, and the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon and Kilion, judgment for going to Moab, and marrying Moabite women. But the book is not interested in those questions and doesn’t answer them.
In fact the book is more interested in telling the story of a family where the odds were stacked against them, a family caught up in a world that seemed to be getting darker by the day, but who nevertheless sought to live faithfully before God a very ordinary, uneventful, kind of life, a life not lit up like others with a dynamic spirituality, rather, a life where God appears to be hidden, and not overtly involved.
In fact in the midst of it Naomi feels that if God is involved, he is against her, that he has cruelly taken everything away, and made her very bitter. That’s all it tells us, it gives no more detail. We want answers – was it God, if so why? Or were they just Naomi’s feelings? Or was it just the consequence of a fallen world etc.? but the text doesn’t go there. It leaves it hanging. Sometimes life is like that. It may be that’s how you feel as a result of all that’s going on, you have questions, you want answers but they are not forthcoming.
Yet, in the midst of all Naomi’s suffering and pain, her faith remained in tact, and neither does she allow the bitterness she feels to infect others. Both Orpah and Ruth are very attached to her, and Ruth doesn’t want to leave her when she insists they go back to their homes, in fact she says, “whereever you go I will go… Your God will be my God.” Wow! That’s something for a Moabite woman to say, and to say within the context of all that had happened. In the midst of her loss and very real pain, Naomi must have been a powerful witness. She could speak of her pain but not deny or walk out on God.
As the story unfolds we discover that Ruth, as it so happens, has been gleaning in the fields of a man named Boaz. When Naomi realises she says to Ruth, “May the LORD bless him because he has not abandoned his kindness to the living or to the dead… The man is a close relative. He is one of our family redeemers.” God knew. God was with her. God cared. God was faithful. God was kind. It was providence.
From there the story unfolds to one of redemption, marriage, a son named Obed who becomes the father of Jesse, who was in turn the father of King David. Wow! That’s a turn of events. And in it you hear something of the story of Job, who lost so much, and to whom the so-called comforters raised their questions, but once again a hidden God was working through it all to greater purpose.
There’s nothing really spectacular or overtly supernatural to the story of Ruth, no prophecies or words from God, no miracles, no angels, no manna from heaven, etc.. Yet God was there, yes hidden, but nevertheless, sovereign, and providentially at work in and through the faithfulness of a family who found themselves caught up in the midst of ungodliness, suffering, great loss, and severe trial.
It may be that to you he appears to be silent, or you feel he has imposed something on you you don’t deserve. It may be you have questions, and no answers. We live in a world where we want God up front and every question answered. We want God to be always speaking, never silent, always doing, never waiting. Yet, that is not the way he works. We cannot make him speak or force him to act. The words of the old hymn still ring true, “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform, he plants his footstep in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Blind unbelief is sure to ere and scan his works in vain, God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain.”
All scripture was written for our benefit. Today we have the benefit of reading the finished story of Naomi, and her daughter in law, Ruth. For them it was a story in the making. In fact Naomi would never know the full outcome this side of eternity. So it is with us. The book of Ruth calls us to faithfulness and trust in the midst of pain. To a daily obedience in the same direction.
Wherever you are, whatever the circumstances, know that God is, know that he is sovereign, that he reigns and rules, and that he works in front and behind – frequently behind and in hidden ways, and as we faithfully serve in the ordinariness of life, whatever we are going through, a sovereign and gracious God is well able to bring his purposes to pass.