Trusting God in the midst of disaster and disappointment
Some people grow up in a stable home – they always have enough – they get through school without much difficulty / get a qualification / find a good job / get married / have their own children etc… they never seem to have major crises through illness or redundancy or children trouble etc…
They could claim it is because they manage life well – OR we could say they are just very fortunate.
Others seem to go from one crisis to another – We may point a finger and say they made bad choices – OR we could say they are very unfortunate.
Naomi seems to have gone from crisis to crisis. Caught in the midst of a famine – moves to Moab. Was she party to the decision or simply a victim? Then her husband and two sons die and she is left a widow in a foreign country.
- How is Naomi to respond to her plight?
- How will she pick up the pieces of her life?
- 1. Prayer and Providence – v.8-9a.
Ruth 1:8-9 8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”….
In spite of the hardships and heartaches that Naomi has endured there is still evidence that she has a strong faith in God.
Faith in God is not evidenced by a life of ease but more often in adversity.
If your life is easy it is not necessarily a sign of God’s favour.
In the midst of her suffering Naomi prays. Note that her prayer is not for herself.
It is clear that Naomi and her two daughters-in-law have formed a close bond and so her pray is for them.
We saw last week that behind the events of human history, including our individual lives, is the providence of God.
- If God is going to providentially act what is the point of prayer?
Prayer and providence are the two sides of the same coin.
Belief in the providence of God is not fatalism – it is faith.
It is belief in a God who rules / cares / provides and based on that we are prepared to do something – namely speak to him.
Providence reminds us of a number of things –
- That we are creatures dependent on God
- That because God is working out his purposes life is not meaningless – thus prayer is a way of expressing our conviction in a God who has a perfect plan.
- That God is a God of grace – prayer is our way of responding to him as children to a father.
- That God is a loving father NOT an irresistible fate – before whom we can only keep silent and be passive. He invites us to share fellowship with him in prayer.
We pray according to God’s will – not the other way around. It is we who are challenged in prayer.
The purpose of prayer is not to mould God to our desires but that we will be conformed to his will. We are to express our trust in God’s providence and discover how our wills are to be more and more aligned to his will for us.
So Naomi prays expressing her trust and committing her future and the future of her two daughters-in-law to God.
She asks for two things:-
- That they may experience God’s kindness
- That God may give them a home.
God’s kindness – the word used here is very interesting and full – used in reference to the covenant relationship God has with his people. Ref. to hi steadfast love and faithfulness.
The NT equivalent would be the word agape – God’s self-giving love – which he desires we emulate.
1 John 4:10-11 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (NIV)
Naomi trusts in God’s care – her desire is that Ruth and Orpah return to their people and remarry.
a home – To understand the full significance of Naomi’s prayer we must understand the circumstances of the time. A woman’s status was tied up with her husband. A widow was in a very precarious position as they had no right of inheritance – to a widow was to be lonely, abandoned and helpless. For these to Moabites women the prospects for remarriage in Israel were remote.
We can see how radical the gospel was in treating men and woman with equal status. (Jesus and Paul)
We can see why Naomi was so keen to persuade them to return and what commitment Ruth showed by refusing to leave Naomi.
- 2. Parting and Pain.
Ruth 1:9-14 9 ……Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me — even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons — 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her. (NIV)
There was a law in Israel that if a brother died leaving no heir his widow should be married by his surviving brother/s and produce an heir for his deceased brother – Levirate.
Naomi is expressing here the hopelessness of Ruth’s and Orpah’s situation – and indeed of her own. No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because [for your sake that] the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”
Naomi’s pain is for them as well as herself – the pain of bereavement / the pain of impending parting. She is bitter / angry / hurt yet she still acknowledges God.
There is a truthfulness in her / no hiding of her feeling before God / no pretence / no stiff upper lip of stoicism.
She may feel bitter and angry BUT there is still faith in his providential care despite her feelings.
Have we forgotten how to be emotional / to mourn and weep / to express our deepest feelings. I suggest that we hide behind masks of self-respect and sanctimonious super-spirituality.
Do you ever feel angry with God – yet feel guilty about it – hide it – cover it in a cloak of passive fatalistic acceptance.
ILLUS.: When is was in Hospital I was angry and in pain and I did not want to talk to God>>>
Bereavement is real – Jesus wept – pain is real. Disappointment is real. Let us not pretend that these things don’t hurt – OR have we become so hardened / developed such a protective shell that we are incapable of showing real emotion.
Have we forgotten how to cry?
Naomi reminds us that our deepest feelings are not hidden from God. It was God’s hand behind the famine and deaths. YET Naomi is still able to express her faith in the use of God’s covenant name – Yahweh – the LORD.
Can you be honest with God about how you feel and yet despite all your feeling still express your faith, no matter how feeble, in God’s covenant keeping love and care?
- 3. Purpose and Promise.
14 …….but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (NIV)
We could say that Orpah showed her love for Naomi by complying with her wish that she return to her own people.
On the other hand Ruth shows her love by refusing to leave Naomi and her willingness or rather determination to share Naomi’s future – her travel/ Where you go I will go – her home/ where you stay I will stay – her faith / Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Her PURPOSE is resolute – to follow Naomi and esp. Naomi’s God.
Her PROMISE is an oath before God that he will severely deal with her if she deviates from that purpose to follow.
Ruth is determined that nothing will separate them – not even death. At the heart of Ruth love and commitment to Naomi is that fact that she has a commitment to Naomi’s God.
Ruth has observed Naomi through all the difficulties and trials – she has listened to explanations about the God of Israel – she has seen her faith in God. As God’s people endure trials and keep their faith they are a witness to the unbelieving world – they are pointers to God and his faithfulness.
Here before us the Lord is bringing Ruth to faith – surely using the experiences of Naomi.
ILLUS.: When we first came to the UK. – Lived with Andy – Testified at his baptism that this was a factor in drawing him to Jesus. IN spite of our difficulties and weak testimony at the time.
A comfortable and easy Christian life will make us fat and unfit spiritually.
Through Naomi’s testimony in adversity – in spite of her feelings / in spite of her feeble faith at times no doubt– Ruth came to trust the God of Israel.
- 4. Pleasant and Bitter.
Ruth 1:19-22 19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (NIV)
With Ruth’s determination to go with Naomi – Naomi capitulates and the two travel back to Bethlehem.
The women of the town are stirred up and gossip!
Naomi explains her plight – maybe they could see her bitterness on her face.
Naomi’s name means ‘Pleasant’ – but she asks to be called ‘Mara’ – bitter.
NOTE that she refers to God as the ALMIGHTY – – El Shaddai. It could come from the word meaning mountain – expressing something that is durable, solid and trustworthy.
It is the name God uses when he tells Abram at 99 years old that he will bless him with a son. It is a name that tells us that God is at his best when man is at his worst – (Motyer).
Some think that Shaddai could come from the word for ‘breast’.
If that is true we have this picture of a God who is strong and trustworthy and dependable like a like a Swiss Alp – AND a God who is tender and loving like a mother with a baby at her breast.
It is as though Naomi is saying to the people of Bethlehem: “You can see the bitterness I have experienced: The Famine, the bereavements, the questionings, the partings, the apparent hopelessness; but I know God as Shaddai, and I can leave the explanations, and even the responsibility of the bitterness with him” (David Atkinson)
It this a cop out on Naomi’s part? Is she passing the buck and blaming God? Is she wrong to think like this?
I think she is being real and honest! Who can make sense of earthly suffering – The Psalmist cried out in despair, “Why do the wicked prosper?”
I think we can learn from Naomi to place in the hands of God the things we cannot and do not understand from an earthly point of view.
Naomi knows that Shaddai is the one with whom she can leave her bitterness BUT he is also the one – Yahweh the covenant God of his people – who has brought her safely home.
Life is full of “WHY’s”. They don’t make sense and we don’t always find answers. BUT God is not remote and detached – just like he wasn’t unconcerned about Naomi and her daughters-in-law. We have a perspective that Naomi never had – the cross of Christ.
God enters our world as a suffering servant to take our sin and our pain. He comes to our level and he invites us to place our sin and our pain on Him.
Is this not what we read in those psalm where the Psalmist in expressing anger at God for the injustices he sees. We see in Jeremiah, the prophet angry at God.
Sometimes we are too hard on Naomi – criticising her for becoming bitter. BUT I think we can learn from Naomi as one who learned to take all her feelings and failings to – to be open and honest – not hiding behind a super-spiritual veneer.
We see in Naomi a deep faith in God shining against the dark background of her troubles. She has seen the Lord restore Bethlehem / she recognises the hand of God behind her bitter experiences / she seeks his protection and provision for her daughters-in-law / she honestly acknowledges her pain.
The rest of the Book will focus on Ruth and Boaz but Naomi has been the agent of God’s providential blessing to others. Is my life / your life a channel of God’s blessing to others in the midst of both Pleasant and Bitter experiences of Life.
Trusting God in the midst of disaster
1. Prayer and Providence – v.8-9a.
2. Parting and Pain – v.9b-14a.
3. Purpose and Promise – v.14b-18.
4. Pleasant and Bitter – v.19-22.