By Russ Ramsey
What is your theology of suffering? You have one. We all do. We may never have thought about it, but we all have presumptions regarding how to think about and deal with pain and loss.
The book of Ruth opens with the story of a woman named Naomi, whose heart is broken. When we meet her, she is married to Elimelech. When famine strikes, they’re living in Bethlehem with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech decides they should uproot and go east to Moab to survive. Out of the gate, this family is facing two huge hardships: the loss of sustenance and the loss of their home.
Then, in Moab, Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi a widow in a foreign land. Her sons marry local Moabite women, but before a decade passes, both of her sons also die. Now she is a widow in a strange land with no sons—only two daughters-in-law who are widows.
Naomi’s loss looks devastating. How would you have responded to this? If that were me, I might quickly be asking, “Is God involved in my life? Has He failed to be good?”
When tragedy hits, we’re left to figure out what to do with it. This is where we all get seriously theological. If there is a God, what sort of God is He? Where is He in our pain?
There are really only four options. We could say:
- There is no God, and that’s just the nature of things. Struggle and suffering are problems we endure, try to learn from, and move past.
- There is a God, but He’s not involved. When we cannot understand how a Divine Being could exist in the same cosmos as our pain, we’re tempted to chalk it up to the Creator being distant, disinterested, or off doing other things.
- There is a God who is involved, but He’s cruel. Here, the Divine Being is like the Greek gods, doling out karma, and sometimes we’re the casualties. This god is the bad guy.
- There is a God who is involved, and He is good—even in the midst of our suffering, even when we don’t understand Him.
Naomi embraced that last option, and held on for dear life. We call this faith.
When God set out to tell His people their story, He included the story of Ruth—this seemingly small vignette about two single women amid extreme uncertainty, dealing with crushing loss. Why do we need this story? For one reason: It shows us that God is working in small stories just as much as He is in grand, sweeping epics. In the small story of Ruth, God works through loss and love, famine and harvest, foreign lands and family to preserve a genealogy that would lead directly to King David and Christ Himself.
We need this story to help us recognize that God is always doing more than we can see, even in our pain. We need to remember that one person’s story is never only about that one person. Your story is not solely about you, and neither is mine just about me. Our stories belong to God, who is always doing immeasurably more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).
To Him be the glory as we study Ruth.