For a plethora of reasons, the Book of Ruth has a special place in my heart: it was one of my first expository series that I preached; read by a death bed, it unlocked a barley farmer's heart; loyal loving-kindness oozes out of life and lips of the main characters of the plot; and, Boaz is a type of our Kinsman-Redeemer Christ.
Yet recently I received a slightly different take - the sad lady, Naomi, whom I had previously neglected, comes under the microscope in John Piper's little volume on the Moabitess. I've also just read a journal article on pain which argues that since our story of suffering is not static but ongoing, pain must not define God's flock.
The mother-in-law of Ruth is a stunning example of this - emigrating in a famine, to look for food in Moab, her husband Elimelech died, followed to the grave by two young wedded lads, who perish without an heir. A grief-stricken widow, with two bereft women to support, is left embittered by seemingly harsh divine providence.
Even after the departure of irresolute weeping Orpah, and receiving solace and strength from the solidarity of covenant convert Ruth, the harrowed widow feels the weight of El Shaddai's heavy, sovereign, hand which does not look like love. Her snide remark sums up her mental state: "I left full but God emptied me out!"
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?" So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest -Ruth 1:19-22.
Her brimming tears of misery had blinded her eyes to golden grains of corn as she took those last steps home. She depicts herself as a tragic victim of circumstance. What she can't see is the as-yet unturned page or how the narrative ends. Before ink has dried, the celestial seribe will give her a seed with a place in Messiah's line.
If God's heavy hand weighs heavily on your heart, or the sweet narrative of your life has been soured by a bitter taste, recall, precious lamb, your story isn't finished yet - the author of your tale, from birth, through death, to life, knew how your story concluded before the beginning of the age.
Usually, in this life, but always in the next, mourning turns to dancing, bitter cups turn sweet, vacuums are filled up, grace sanctifies our grief, and, when time is ripe, sheep praises bubble up. Naomi learnt, through grief, that pain is worth the wait - your sympathetic High Priest temporarily wounds to hurt to finally heal and help.