In the first of a two-part blog, our Bible Advocacy Manager Nick Franks talks about the hopelessness felt after loss. Using the example of Naomi in the book of Ruth, Nick reminds us that God’s providential love is the only hope that we need in these times.
There is a very specific warmth of providence that emerges throughout the book of Ruth, much like an inclemency-conquering sunrise after a long, dark night of rain. A widow’s backstory of pain and suffering, and of spiritual disorientation, is finally soothed by the blossoming of better times and the type of blessing that leads ultimately to a renewed awe within personal worship. The sodden trees still drip their excess but the light of a brand-new day penetrates every single one of them.
Dark Nights of Disorientation
Naomi the Moabitess is passing through the waters of suffering at such a depth that the bewildering loss of her husband, Elimelech, and her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, have rendered her hopeless. Her grieving head has gone under. Though the book is entitled after her daughter-in-law, this is very much Naomi’s dark night of the soul.
It’s difficult for some of us to enter in to the full extent of Naomi’s pain, but we can all relate to the pain of personal suffering and, especially, the peculiar sense of hopelessness that can discourage us when we feel disoriented in the things of God – when we feel forgotten and even afflicted by Him. (Psalm 119:71 NIV).
Naomi was utterly convinced that God had forsaken her forever (Ruth 1:13, 20-21 NIV) but in the very last verse of chapter one we’re told that, along with Ruth, she arrives in Bethlehem just at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1: 22 NIV).
The Perfection of Providence
When we experience moments or seasons of pain in our own lives, of suffering and disorientation in our Christian journey, we can be sure that God will eventually come through – ‘eventually’ in the sense of perfectly on time rather than hurriedly late.
Indeed, the Biblical text gives us this information about the beginning of the barley harvest to remind us that He is sovereignly in control of every season, within every death and every birth, that He is over every incidental detail of our lives, to inject hope into our reading. We’re meant to feel the gravity of Naomi’s loss, and ours, but also the relief from the kindling hope that uniquely comes from a faith rising from the living Word of Christ (Romans 10:17 NIV).
“… faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Imagine waking from a restless night’s sleep, walking outside into the fresh air, closing your eyes and enjoying the warmth of sunshine on your face.
God knows precisely where each of us are. He knows where we live. He knows our silent petitions. He knows all our struggles and all of those of the people we love.
The God of Hesed Love
As well as this bedrock of providence, Ruth demonstrates a specific kind of practical love to Naomi when Orpah kisses her goodbye. She remains determined to stay with Naomi until her dying day – a covenantal, cleaving love reflecting the loyal loving-kindness of Yahweh to the people of Israel, despite her own suffering. The Israelites knew this reality as hesed love (it’s worthwhile exploring its fuller meaning).
The knowledge and experience of this God of hesed love, expressed via His sovereign providence and forensic awareness of every detail of our lives, is powerful enough to lift our heads within suffering and open our mouths to declare His praise. And it is surely powerful enough to bring you through your darkest night into the glorious morning of ministering comfort to others – with the same comfort you have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:4 NIV).
So, when you read through the book of Ruth, and as you reflect on your own suffering and that of the groaning world, consider the powerful acts of providence punctuating its narrative. Have a think about all the ways that, in His hesed love, God clearly weaves His tender mercies into the lives of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz (and all the people they touch) and highlight the detail of the text that conveys this to you as the reader.
Then, make a note of all that you can imagine God doing in and through your life as, via eyes of faith, you look beyond your here and now to the future, even to eternity, trusting in His promises to restore and to heal and to bless you in ways that, just like for Naomi, far exceed your ability to fully comprehend (Ephesians 3:20).
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ”.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV
Bible Advocacy Manager