Recently, I’ve been reading the book of Ruth. And I have been seeing in it the theme of hope.
In the book of Ruth, God shows us a contrast: two ways of responding to life’s hard knocks. Two women in deep grief, who respond differently. Naomi gives way to bitterness, whereas Ruth chooses faith.
Both Naomi and Ruth have lost loved ones. Both of them have been deeply hit by grief. But they respond differently.
Naomi has been battered by life, and it has made her bitter. She has almost given up hope that God could ever be good to her, even though she is His. She chooses to follow God, but she lives in fear, holding out only very little hope that God’s mercy will break in. She says it herself: bitterness has taken hold of her heart. It has become part of her.
’20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”’ Ruth 1:20-21
That’s what can happen when life knocks you down again and again. Bitterness takes root deep in your heart. You begin to see life coloured by the darkness. You can’t believe that God could ever be good to you again.
You look at the future with pessimism, anticipating the worst. Naomi’s bitterness causes her to discourage her daughters-in-law from following God. She cannot see any hope in their future either… or only a small glimpse of hope far, far into the future that could never really work very well.
Naomi has allowed bitterness and grief to take root so deeply that it has become how she sees her whole identity.
Ruth, too, has been knocked by life. Deeply. She has lost her husband. She has no child. She is largely alone and destitute in a very sad world.
And she does not know God very well: she has only glimpsed Him through her broken-hearted mother-in-law’s fading faith.
But Ruth chooses to bank everything on the faithfulness of a God she has heard of, and is beginning to hope in, in spite of what she sees around her.
Ruth lives with hope in a God she does not know. She chooses to follow Him, believing that somehow He will provide. She lives with hope; expectancy. She chooses to follow Him down the road of sacrificial faith, choosing to sacrificially serve another and trusting He will provide. She lives like God will be good to her.
And He is. God already has His provision prepared. It is just waiting for Naomi and Ruth to step out in faith, for Him to bless them.
Actually, God is good to both of them. Extravagantly, abundantly good. He is writing a story that is stunning in its mercy and kindness and extravagant grace. He is preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus, to come into this broken world.
But it takes Naomi a while to hope in God’s goodness, and it is only when she begins to see God at work that she starts to believe His kindness has not forsaken her after all.
’20 Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!”’ Ruth 2:21
Hope is dawning. Naomi is beginning to hope in the goodness of God.
And God’s goodness is going to blow her away. Although, of course, Naomi has no idea that Ruth’s son will be in the family tree of the Messiah, Jesus, Who will be the salvation of them both (and us, if we follow Him).
Eternity alone will reveal the incredible things He was doing in and through their story.
I think we can learn from Ruth and Naomi. I think God wants those who trust in Jesus and follow Him (which we can all do) to hope in His mercy; to live like He will be good to us; to live putting His kingdom first, because we believe He will be good to those who follow Him.
‘Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,’ Ps 33:18
Hoping in His mercy. That’s not a glib, superficial thing. It can be through deep tears; deep pain. It can mean a long road. It can be choosing to trust Him when trust is excruciating hard (and He shares in that pain with us, in this broken world). It means letting Him comfort us; hold us in our tears, in His Everlasting Arms.
But it is trust in a God Who is deeply, deeply good.
And that hope in His mercy brings Him pleasure.
’11 The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him,
In those who hope in His mercy.’ Psalm 147:11
A God Who gave His own beloved Son for all who will choose to follow Him. A God Who loves us that much.
’32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’ Romans 8:32
If you are trapped in the bitterness of the past, you are not ready for the new things God wants to do for you. Your faith is not engaged because you have given up hope. But God acts for those who wait expectantly for Him.
‘For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.’ Isaiah 64:4
God responds to faith, which is closely wrapped up with hope. And bitterness quenches faith. It snuffs it out.
Sure, God doesn’t always do what we expect. Ruth and Naomi didn’t expect Him to answer the way He did (it was bigger than they could conceive). And yes, it can be a broken road, with tears along the way (it certainly was for them). But He was good to them. Extravagantly, abundantly good.
And He will be to all who choose to follow Him.
(God gave His Son to give us all a way back to Him; a way to discover His mercy. We have all rebelled against Him and gone our own way. But God in His incredible mercy gave His Son to die in our place so that we can be forgiven. When you come to Him through Jesus, confessing your sin, trusting in Jesus alone to save you and surrendering your life to follow Him, He will forgive and accept you, too. It won’t always be easy, but He offers you eternal hope that ends only in good).
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.