Ruth: A Guide for Life’s Troubled Times
by Brian Bailey
Have you ever been lost….?
Now I have a good sense of direction as a rule. But I remember a time while traveling when I got completely turned around and could not seem to find my way.
I was on the beltway around Washington, D.C., traveling to New York, and I could not figure out how to get off the beltway to finish the journey. After driving in circles for what seemed like an eternity to everyone in the family, I finally gave up and admitted defeat, then stopped and asked for directions.
The need for a navigator
As I look back on this incident, I think how great it would have been to have someone riding in the car who knew how to navigate the beltway, who knew the road and could advise when and where to turn.
When we are on a Washington, D.C. beltway experience in life, it would be very comforting to have someone with us who knew how to navigate the road and knew where the journey would take us—someone who knew that ultimately, although the road was rough, dangerous, and confusing, the road could be successfully traversed.
The Bible is a book that can be that navigator for us.
In the book of Ruth, we find the story of people who found the way on life’s difficult road.
Friend, Jesus is the way. He loves you and me enough that he willingly went to the cross and suffered an excruciating death that he might redeem us from sin. Consider this: if he died to save you from hell and death, he will not leave you helpless in this life, if you have turned to him in faith and repentance. God does not abandon His children. He has not abandoned me.
This is the story of Ruth, yet it is also the story of God showing grace and mercy in my life. It is a story of Him bringing victory from death and suffering.
I invite you, as you read this book, to share with me how God is working in your life. I am interested in your story. If you are willing to share your life, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be an honor to hear from you.
Blessing and Joy, Brian Bailey
In the late summer of 1989 I found myself in the very uncomfortable position of looking for a regular job but not having much success.
For about three months I had been employed through a temporary agency at the local telephone company. Since this was a temporary job, the door seemed shut for regular employment at the phone company, so I was still looking for a regular job.
I did have the opportunity to pick up some part-time evening work, so late in the afternoon on the last Tuesday in August I left my temporary job a little early to go home and dress for the other job. When I got to the house, I thought it a little odd that my wife and my nine-year old son, Charles, were not home. I knew that she had gone to pick him up on what was the second day of school, but she had not advised me of any other plans.
As I was getting dressed, I noticed that the message light was blinking on the answering machine, so I played the message. The message was my wife telling me that she and Charles had been in an automobile accident and Charles had been taken to the hospital. She did not tell me what his condition was.
I quickly drove to the hospital, worried about my son and, ashamed to say, worried how we would pay for the hospital bills. When I reached the hospital, I found my wife outside of the emergency room; she was bruised from the accident but otherwise appeared unscathed. It was then that she told me Charles’s injuries were severe and that he might not survive.
When we entered the emergency room, the paramedics found us and took us into a small office. We sat down as the paramedic knelt down in front of us and told us that Charles, my only child, “…didn’t make it.”
My life would never be the same. It forever had a line of demarcation: my life before the loss of Charles and my life after the loss.
Charles was gone. A lover of books, like his dad—intelligent and precocious. His life, just barely beginning, was ended in a moment on an old, county back road.
Gone, with no chance to tell him how loved and precious he really was. No chance for saying “goodbye.”
Speaking of the unspeakable
What brings us to the point in our lives where we want to speak of the unspeakable? For years afterwards I was reticent about discussing with people, especially those I didn’t know, about the loss of my son. Now, twenty years after the event, I have come full circle on the issue of sharing my loss and pain.
Early on, my goal emotionally was to put distance between myself and the loss. By nature I shun the spotlight, but scripture is the arbiter of our lives, and I am moved on biblical grounds to share my story and what I have learned about suffering. I am convicted by the words of Paul to share where God has brought me and what He has shown me on this faith journey.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)
The lesson learned
What do we learn here? It is God who comforts us in our afflictions, and He wants us to share this comforting given to us with others who need it. There is a unique fellowship with those who have suffered—a familial bond.
Suffering, trials, and loss are the events that we all will share in this world, and if Christianity has nothing to say about suffering, it has little to say to the world. But Christianity has much to say about suffering. Indeed, the Bible is the story of God and how He deals with the suffering and difficulty of this world.
"Life is difficult."
F. Scott Peck wrote in his book, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.”
It is in the difficulty and messiness of life that we find the message of the book of Ruth. In the narrative we can see the God of comfort at work in her life and also in the life of another central character, her mother-in-law Naomi. We can see how these two people, average every day people like you and me, handled suffering.
It is a book that deals with trials and suffering, in other words, with affliction.
Affliction, Elisabeth Elliot has said, is having what you do not want, or wanting what you do not have. If you want to boil suffering down to its most bare essence, her definition is it. We will look at what God says about affliction and some of the reasons that affliction intrudes in our lives.
Themes in Ruth
Let us start by saying there are concurrent thoughts that run throughout the book of Ruth:
One, All of us, if we live long enough, will be touched by some pain, some failure, some form of tragedy. For many of us when we are young, the world seems to open up before us with tremendous promise and opportunity. But life has a way of bruising and battering and pushing us into difficulties and heartache. Over time, life seems to loose its luster, and we feel life-weary.
Two, God in His very nature is a God who longs to forgive the sinner (all of us), to heal those broken in body or spirit, and to restore the broken-hearted. This is the message of the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God To comfort all who mourn... (Isaiah 62:1,2)
God heals! He longs to bless us and restore us and show us His good mercy and grace. Our suffering is not for nothing; God will redeem our tears. He has done this in my life and in the lives of countless others.
Three, There is no suffering or heartache that is beyond the healing, restoring touch of God. Our sufferings are not a matter of chance or fate. God is on the throne; He is the ruler of all creation; and He rules all the events of our lives as part of His larger plan.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote the following in her book, A Path Through Suffering
“Each time the mystery of suffering touches us personally and all the cosmic questions arise afresh in our minds we face the choice between faith (which accepts) and unbelief (which refuses to accept)….
I write as one who has desperately needed a refuge. The bottom has dropped out of my world, as it were, more than once. What exactly was going on? Where was I to turn? To God? Is He God or is He not? Does He love me or Does He not? Am I adrift in chaos or is the word true that tells me I am an individual created called, loved and purposefully placed in a cosmos, an ordered universe, a universe designed, created and completely under the control of a loving God and Father?
It helps me in times of such bewilderment and sorrow to go to some of the simplest words, such as’ I am the good shepherd’. My Lord chose that description of Himself and He does not change…The word fits my need, for I am a sheep, helpless and bleating. He cannot forget one for whom He lays down His life. I bank everything on that.”
We see ourselves in Ruth
Ruth is a book where hopefully we can see ourselves on some level and see the ministry and love of God in our lives, as Elisabeth Elliot has seen the ministry and love of God in hers. The Bible is indeed a timeless book.