Ruth: A Guide for Life’s Troubled Times
by Brian Bailey
"The Iron Hand of God"
And they said to her, “No but we shall surely return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Return my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Return my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I had hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.” (Chapter 1 verses 10-13)
Ruth and Orpah seek to act loyally here. They both voice the desire to continue on with Naomi to Israel. Naomi’s argument against this is flawless in its logic: I cannot produce new husbands for you even if I conceived tonight. I couldn’t expect you to wait until they were grown. What you two women are considering makes no sense; it is not a practical outworking of faith or love.
Naomi so wants happiness and fulfillment for these two dear women. She wants a hope and a future that has been denied her. She feels to be under a curse from God. Who can blame her? Her beloved children and husband are gone. Her future is fraught with certain poverty; she has nothing to look forward to in this life.
There is the story of a man whose life became a Job-like experience. He lost his job, a hurricane destroyed his house and a tree fell on his car. As if that wasn’t enough, his wife filed for divorce.
Despondent and dejected, he decided to take a walk in the woods to commune with nature. As he was walking along, his path took him under a large oak tree. Just as he walked under the tree a branch broke loose, fell and hit him on the head. Knocked senseless, the man fell to the ground.
After a minute, he recovered enough to understand what had happened, and his composure broke and he began to weep and cry. “Why God?” he wailed. “Why all of this trouble in my life?” Suddenly a voice thundered from above, “There is just something about you that ticks me off!”
Back to Naomi
Naomi feels God is ticked off with her. She feels she has been pummeled by the iron hand of God. She believes the hand of God is against her.
We read in the book of Judges chapter two that when Joshua who had actually lead the Jews into the promised land died, the Jews fell into apostasy and worshiped false gods. “The anger of the LORD (Yahweh, the covenant making God) burned against Israel…” (Joshua 2:14). They broke their covenant with God, and He gave them over to their enemies as a judgment. We read in verse 15 “…the hand of the LORD was against them…” The same verbiage as from Naomi! She is quoting from Judges.
Although our goodness is relative to another’s badness, bad things do happen to good people. Or put another way: our faithful living will not preclude painful events entering into our lives. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…” Peter admonished the first century believers (I Peter 4:12). The inference here is that rather than be surprised, we should expect trials of our faith. Now there’s a wet blanket on much of our current religious thought in America!
The idea that God gives you in this life what you deserve was the predominant view of the Jews of Ruth’s and Naomi’s day. In the book of Job after all manner of disasters rain down on Job’s life we see him sitting in the dust, covered with painful boils, just stunned by it all. Three of his friends come to comfort him. They weep and tear their clothes at his calamity and sit with him in silence for seven full days.
Then Job spoke and he cursed his birth: "Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man is conceived.'
Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it.”
Then he launches into a long bitter soliloquy. Among other things Job says,
I am blameless; I regard not myself; I loathe my life.
It is all one; therefore I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges—if it is not he, who then is it?
This is where things begin to break down between Job and his friends. The three friends can not believe that Job has the temerity to proclaim that he is innocent of some wrongdoing that is causing all of this. His friend, Zophar, holds the belief that God balances the books of life here and now. He subscribes to the idea that truly bad things do not happen to good people.
“….Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”
“If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him.
If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents.
Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;
you will be secure and will not fear. You will forget your misery;
you will remember it as waters that have passed away.
And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.
(Job 6:11, 13-17)
Poor Job is truly perplexed; he cannot figure out where he has gone wrong to deserve all the disaster that befell him. It just does not make sense to Job. Is it not good for good and bad for bad in this life from the hand of God?
If you think that bad things happen when you are bad, imagine how Naomi looked at the loss of her husband and two sons. Doubtless she asked herself repeatedly, “Where did I go wrong; how have I sinned?”
In our own day
The concept of good for good and bad for bad is still prevalent in our day. On May 7, 2008 Rachel Hoffman, a twenty-three year old graduate of Florida State University was murdered by two men in a botched undercover drug sting. Hoffman was lured into working for the Police Department because she had been arrested with marijuana and other drugs and she was trying to avoid a prison sentence. The response of some to her death was, “She was a druggie, what do you expect?” “Another dangerous criminal off the streets. Good for the Tallahassee police.”
But what about the truly innocent victims of suffering, such as the employees of Enron who lost their savings when the company collapsed? What about the victims of Bernie Madoff who swindled his investors in a giant ponzi scheme?
As in the case of Enron and Madoff the evil of men shatters the lives of others with either a direct or indirect touch. If we follow the theory of good for good and bad for bad we crash on the rocks of the sins of these aforementioned white-collar criminals. If we as people receive good for good and bad for bad how could we explain the misery created in the world by the likes of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer? How does good for good and bad for bad explain the horror of the sexual abuse of little children? What explanation is there for the disease that strikes with seeming randomness? How can anyone explain good for good and bad for bad if they visit a children’s cancer ward?
Some would point to the God of the Old Testament who thundered on Mount Sinai in judgment and power as a possible explanation, but it falls short. In the totality of the history of God with his people the number of times that He seemed to stoop down and bring judgment on His people was infrequent. Rather, what we see more of is His patience and forbearance.
Our world, the Bible declares, is fallen, tainted and infected with the moral fall of man:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:1-23)
In the fallenness of this world age, we have the sufferings that befall us from nature in tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and weather extremes. We see that nature and our bodies have been damaged by the Curse. We see the disease that afflicts young and old alike. This is the Curse of Adam that has infected and stained this world.
John’s gospel shows how the disciples confront this issue when they come across the man blind from birth:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him…” (John 9:1-3)
Jesus turns their worldview completely on its ear with his statement. As we will see further, God sometimes has His purposes that appear oblique to us. Affliction happens due to the fallenness of Creation and the evil of man but also ultimately due to the often hidden purposes of God.
Our lives are not random or purposeless. The sufferings allowed into our lives have purpose. It comes down to a biblical doctrine which has fallen out of favor in our current culture: the doctrine of Providence. We shall consider more on this later. Let us consider now the words of William Cowper, a man who struggled greatly with depression and through his sorrows learned much:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.*
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
*God Moves in a Mysterious Way, William Cowper, 1774
Have you ever felt like Naomi did, that the Hand of God has gone out against you?
Read previous articles in Brian Bailey's Ruth series:
Last Update: 2013-08-12 16:41