The Story of Ruth: Unexpected Things

Ruth 1:1:

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

The story of Ruth begins with something unpredictable, famine in the land of Israel.  A man named Elimelech responds by moving his family to the neighboring country of Moab, intending to stay “for a while.”

We must assume that conditions were better in Moab than in Israel, or at least that Elimelech thought they were, and so he was trying to take care of his family by doing so.  Instead, something even more unexpected happens:  Elimelech dies.  His wife, Naomi, and their two sons are stranded in a foreign land, with the head of their immediate family gone and no extended family to rely on, no solid connections to the community in which they find themselves.

The sons, Mahlon and Kilion, respond to their family’s need by taking Moabite wives, giving them needed connections to the people among whom they are living, so that they can provide for themselves and their widowed mother.  Having taken on marriage ties into the Moabite community, the family settles more permanently; the story says they stay for ten years, and perhaps they intended to stay for good.  But one last unexpected blow lands.  Mahlon and Kilion also die, and Naomi is left alone.

So much tragedy in the beginning of this story, so many things that could be neither predicted nor controlled.  Elimelech and his family try to make the best of their circumstances, it seems they even attain some level of security, but when the next bombshell hits they are bowled over again.

There’s a hard piece of truth here, one that most of us try to keep far away:  we aren’t really in control of our lives.  We maintain an illusion that life is stable and secure; a lot of the time, the things we expect are the things that actually happen, and so we keep on expecting them … until the day when something unexpected happens instead, and we are surprised and shaken.  If on any given day we may be taken by surprise, if something unexpected can land smack in the middle of our comfortable, “predictable” lives, then we are not in control — not ever fully in control.  Otherwise we would never be surprised.  We would be able to sidestep unexpected, unwanted tragedy.

It’s no wonder we keep this truth at arm’s length.  The world is a scary place, seen in light of it.  The only way I can really face up to this difficult truth is to hold another piece of truth beside it:  I am not in control, but God is.  I am surprised sometimes, but God is never surprised.  Everything unexpected that happens to me has already been incorporated into his plans, so that I may feel shaken, but can never be ruined.

It’s hard to keep hold of this truth, knowing that hardship and loss happen, and God lets it — God who can prevent anything, chooses not to prevent everything difficult.  I have to say, a good percentage of me wishes he would.  I wish that I didn’t have to live through hard times, and that my family and friends didn’t have to either.  Nonetheless, I’m not the one who gets to decide that, because I’m not in control.  God is, and he chooses what happens, and sometimes those events are brutal to experience.  I don’t have to like that in order for it to be true.

I have to remind myself very strongly that God is not careless, nor uncaring.  If he allows something painful to happen, he has a very good reason for it, a good enough reason to justify the pain, just like a doctor or physical therapist will allow pain, even inflict pain, for the sake of greater health.  The surgeon cuts, in order to remove the tumor.  God has very good reasons for what he chooses to let into our lives, always.

The other thing that helps me with these hard truths is to remember that God plans for our needs, including what we need to weather the hardships he gives us.  He isn’t surprised by our tragedies, in fact he knows the day and the hour of their arrival far in advance, and so he is ready with what we need in order to get through.  Naomi didn’t know she would lose her husband and sons, she could not have guessed that she would be abandoned in a foreign land with little means of support, but God knew.  He knew, and he seeded into her life far ahead of time the means of her eventual salvation:  the woman named Ruth.


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