“Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today…may he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age” (Ruth 4:14, 15).
In the book of Ruth God’s providential hand often gets overlooked. We look in the wrong places. Where it shines brightest is a place from which we’d rather turn our eyes — in the recesses of the pain in Naomi’s heart. With husband and two young sons, she left her home and her homeland when famine came. During their journey to escape famine, Noami lost husband and sons. When she returned to the familiarity of Bethlehem she said, “I went out full, but the Lord brought me back empty.” So, she changed her name from “Naomi” meaning pleasant or sweet to “Mara” meaning bitterness. She returned different but not diminished.
God’s providence “crashed” into Naomi’s life like a semi blowing through a four-way stop. To explain what happened, one writer said, “every possible substitute for God in [Naomi’s] life was removed, every potential barrier was broken down. Through [her personal] catalogue of tragedy God was restoring Naomi to himself.” It may seem to us that such severity of circumstance cannot be consistent with God’s character and what we know of him. But that is because we do not fully appreciate how seriously God loves us and how determined he is that we should have his best even if it means pain (To see how determined God is about us read 1 Chron. 16:31, 33).
The same day I was meditating on Naomi’s story, on the radio I heard a similar surprising story of a couple that experienced a Naomi-like tragedy. As they said, “everything in life was perfect” for them. Then in one instant nothing was “good anymore.” An out-of-control truck broadsided their car. Though both lived, you can imagine the physical damage they suffered and the long road to recovery. Yet, even in the middle of a world turned upside down, they longed to obey 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Providential care may bring pain into our lives. When that happens it may also reveal our heart. It has mine in far less demanding circumstances. What is revealed is an ugly unwillingness to be thankful in the depth of a painful circumstance. My heart fights back with demandingness in protest, “I deserve better than this!” That’s when the real work of faith begins to fight for obedience. Not by gritting your teeth to eek out a compulsory praise or two but resting in the confidence that God is at work bringing an end to “every possible substitute for God.”
At those times try to remember these four truths:
- At times God’s providences are painful and severe;
- Through these experiences he may touch the lives of others in comforting ways;
- God brings us to a fuller appreciation of his ways with us that we would otherwise lack;
- God fulfills his purposes through us in ways that far exceed our expectations.
Shattered dreams are sometimes the pathways leading to greater good. For Naomi the pathway of shattered dreams lead to becoming the grandmother of Obed who became the father of Jesse who became the father of David, in whose family line Jesus was born the Savior of the world!
Father, forgive us for asking you to remove the pain before we praise you in the pain as our Wise and loving Redeemer! This pain is the result of your working in our lives. Though it feels like death, it’s really all about life. So, we praise you for your steady love toward us even when it’s a severe love; for you will not abandon us to our shame! Whether we am successful or not, fruitful or not these are matters of your purposes in our lives. If there’s enough money in the bank or no bank at all, you are still our God and Father. Do with us what seems good in your sight. Then you’ll get the glory and we’ll get the privilege of seeing you exalted and praised as the Greatest Savior ever displayed!
Copyright 2002 Bob Buchanan, D.Min – Published with Permission