Eight years ago, a close friend of mine passed away. He was a believer who loved God wholeheartedly and was serving in various ministries in and outside of church. I struggled deeply to find the justice behind it. Surely he did nothing to deserve having his life snatched away at twenty-six.
So when I read the book of Ruth, it inevitably raised the question, “Is God an unfair God?” Seldom do we see three deaths inflicted on a family of four in the opening of a book. At first glance, this was a picture of a typical Israelite family. The head of the household was Elimelech whose name meant ‘My God is King’. God did bless the family with two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Is it unreasonable to infer that they were a God-fearing family? If so, what did they do to deserve such a tragedy?
Judges 21:25 tells us that “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This period of Israel’s history consisted of cyclical disobedience and repentance which resulted in breaking the very covenant that they have vowed before Moses (Deuteronomy 10-11) and later on renewed in Joshua 24. God promised to take care of them if they obeyed Him. Conversely, He warned them of the dire consequences should they choose to sin against Him. On a national level, the people of Israel were most likely turning their back against God, hence He struck the land with famine. This was the judgment of God upon Israel for her sins (Deut 28:23-24).
In my reflections, I was trying to make sense of the tragedy to find answers. Even if Israel was sinning against God, why was the judgement on Naomi’s family so harsh? The more I searched, the more questions I had. However, as we get to the closing chapter of Ruth, we must realise that it is not a cautionary tale showing the causation and correlation of sin and its consequences. The bible would be clearer about what Elimelech and/or Israel did wrong before God if it were the case. If we are fixated on the ‘injustice’ part of the story, we will lose the main theme – God’s sovereignty over everything.
The terrible and ‘unjust’ things we see in Ruth – the famine in the Promised Land, the deaths of three immediate family members, the barrenness of both Orpah and Ruth, the singleness of Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer’s rejection of Ruth were all part of God’s intricate plan to save His people (Israelites and Gentiles alike) by including a Moabite woman in the royal lineage of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God can use our brokenness, the messiness in our lives, and even all the ‘unjust’ happenings for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Each character in the book of Ruth never knew the part they played in God’s big picture. It was only generations later that people began to understand the significance of it all.
In this fallen world, we will unavoidably encounter moments, or even periods of despair, sorrow and loss just like Naomi did. We may feel that God is unjust, unloving and has dealt “very bitterly” with us. We could spend all our lives dissecting why God has afflicted us so and never ever find the answer. Our micro perspective may also never shed light on God’s macro perspective. In these moments, may we cling on to the hope that God is in control. Trust that God is at work to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11) just as He did with Naomi and Ruth.
Years on, the pain of losing my friend is still there, but I am comforted by a God that loves me dearly and knows my deepest sorrow. Psalms 56:8 (NLT) says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
If you are struggling just as I have struggled, I pray that you will likewise find comfort in His sovereignty and have faith that He intends the best for us. Do feel free to speak to any pastoral staff, I pray that you do not need to struggle alone as I did.
By Samuel Lin (YCKC Bulletin 8 November 2015)