In part two of The Book of Ruth series (May 28, 2017 – “Grief”), we get to drill down into Naomi’s ridiculous statements about what God had done to her. She declares in several ways that she believes God to be sovereign but also declares Him less than good with her statement about bitterness, emptiness and calamity.
So the two of them [Naomi & Ruth] 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 [w/2 sons & a husband], 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?” Ruth 1:19-21 (ESV)
Naomi should have let her thinking inform her feelings but it appears that she was unable to resist bitterness as she returned from Moab; where she had run from God’s disciplining hand. She didn’t get it. God caused the famine to show Israel its sin and He wanted them to repent and turn back to worshiping Him. Naomi and her husband refuse and then flee. Then Naomi doubles down on her sin and disobeys God’s command again by marrying her two sons off to Moabite woman. Those marriages only bring more despair; both sons die. Instead of seeing all these events in light of her own actions of stubborn sinfulness, she basically stomps her little foot and says to a watching Bethlehem, “God is mean to me”. She refuses to see the good in what God is doing; seeking to draw her to Himself.
As Christians, we see this every day in social media with, “Look at me, I’m a Christian. God is so good, God is sovereign over everything in my life … but I now have a problem or a trial and WOE IS ME!”
My mind goes crazy when I hear Christians say they believe God is the ultimate Sovereign and is in charge but, somehow, He’s let some part of their perfect life be disrupted and He needs to be made aware of it with prayers meant to change the outcome. They believe that God must heal the suffering because they believe that that is the only right answer. Then they go announce to all their “friends” that it’s going to take a lengthy Facebook feed of “prayers” to fix God’s negligence? Sounds like we need to fire this God for neglect of duty.
Maybe we need to start believing the Bible in Romans 8:28 when it says He’s “working all things for our good”. He’s working! He’s not on break. This suffering is INTENTIONAL. This suffering has a purpose and that is to show us our sin and lead us to repentance. Time to put the secular American, powder-puff Christianity away and grab the armor of Christ. It’s okay to declare our pain but let’s start declaring the working of God in it. We must start declaring a bold, real belief that God is good in times of trouble instead of an attention-seeking, anemic faith and obvious denials of our sovereign God. Let’s start declaring the confident reality that there is GOOD IN THE SUFFERING, even if we don’t understand it – because it’s true. John Piper gives a most eloquent explanation on this topic: Does God Want Me to Suffer?
“It is time that we as Christians straighten up our thinking because we need to stop declaring a sovereign God who is not also a good God because you are destroying His character to a watching world. If your God is sovereign and you don’t see Him as good, then I’m telling you, He’s not the God of the Bible and the God you are following is not in charge. God is sovereign and good, or He’s not sovereign.” Pastor Steve Wilson
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep [dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope [non-Christians].” Naomi is acting as if she has no hope and there is no good point to her suffering. She is misinformed in her grief and maligning God. She’s only telling half the story.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing [all kinds of suffering] you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Naomi obviously didn’t know how to renew her mind in times of trouble and we probably don’t know how to either. We must renew our minds in times of grief/suffering so we do not lose hope but instead find joy during times of suffering. Check back next week for Pastor Steve’s detailed list of practical ways to renew your mind and learn to inform your grief/suffering. You need these tools!