I’ve grown up in church. My mom used to say that I was in church 9-months before I was born, and she was right. That’s what happens when you’re born into the family of a man who always wanted to be a pastor. He used every moment of his terminal leave prior to officially retiring from the US Air Force in order to make it to the start of his first semester in seminary.
I thought I had a handle on all things religious, at least enough to navigate my stay-at-home life with a husband and small children. But then, life got rough, I mean really rough. As in, I only thought I’d known rough before.
Doubts crept in. The obstacles I faced challenged my beliefs about a good God. Disproportionate facts stared me in the face as I looked around our world. I wondered: Could I still look at the Bible and see that God cares? Would I look at the stories I knew and still see God as good and just, who offered mercy and extended grace?
A Story of Heartbreak
May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agised as in that hour left my lips. ~Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
Ruth is my daughter’s favorite book in the Bible. In the first paragraph of the first chapter, we are introduced to Naomi, a married Jewess with two sons living in Bethlehem. A famine hits the land, so they make the choice to flee to Moab, the people descended from Lot (Ruth 1:1–2, Genesis 19:36–37). In both the lack of food and in saying good-bye to friends and loved ones, the first sorrows we know of hit Naomi’s life.
Shortly after arriving in Moab, her husband dies (Ruth 1:3). A second sorrow piles on to the first. Her sons marry Moabite women, and life seems to settle down for a bit. We really aren’t given many details, including how old her sons were when they left Bethlehem, how long they lived in Moab before her husband died, or even at what point her sons married. All we know for sure is that ten years pass between moving to Moab and verse 5, which reports the deaths of both her sons. Two more sorrows to pile on.
Was she close with the families her sons married into? That could have brought some comfort to her over the years she was away from Bethlehem, but we don’t know. Maybe they never fully accepted her because she wasn’t one of them. What about grandchildren? The text doesn’t suggest in any way that either Ruth or Orpah carried babies. Were they not married long enough for this to have happened? Or was this perhaps more sorrow that Naomi endured as she watched her children go childless?
Hope comes. But sorrow remains close.
When word reached Naomi that the Lord had provided food again in Judah, she and her daughters-in-law packed up and prepared to return. But on the road, Naomi encouraged her two girls to go back to their mothers’ homes where they could perhaps find another husband. The tender relationship between the three of them is beautiful. Verse 10 says, She kissed them good-bye and they wept aloud. More sorrow piling on.
At first, both girls fought her on her request, but she laid out the painful reality to them. She had no other sons and little chance to gain another husband. She was returning to her people in poverty, relying on the care and concern of others for the rest of her days. Orpah conceded and returned home to her family.
But Ruth? In one of the most loved passages in the Bible, Ruth plainly states,
Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me(verses 16-17).
This loyalty touches me, but Naomi could get lost in her grief. When she returned to Bethlehem, all those that had known her before commented on the change in her. She seems to ignore Ruth at her side when she says to them, the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty (verses 20-21). Oh, how easy it is to be blind to the blessings surrounding us!
A Fresh Opportunity
Thankfully, Naomi doesn’t remain so buried in her mourning that she can’t see the opportunity placed before Ruth. When the girl stumbles into Boaz’s field to glean food for them to eat, Naomi encourages her to follow Boaz’s instructions and glean only in his fields behind his workers. When the winnowing of the barley began, she guided Ruth, teaching her how to seek Boaz out and ask him to be her guardian-redeemer, the man to marry her. And everyone soon recognized the blessings to Naomi. Boaz became father to Obed, who became father to Jesse, who became father to King David.
In all of Naomi’s sufferings, she never left God’s heart. He watched over her and provided for her even when the worst things she could conceive happened to her. Even though His methods were not what she would have chosen, I’m certain that in her final days, Naomi would never have chosen a life without Obed.
Will we see that God Cares?
Sheila Walsh asks some pointed questions in God Loves Broken People: And Those Who Think They Aren’t, questions well highlighted in Naomi’s story.
Suffering and pain peel back the layers of our faith and present us a life-changing choice: Will we become bitter, blaming God and others for our pain, venting our hurt and anger and frustration on those we consider responsible? Will we wallow in self-pity? Will we run and hide? Will we resist?
Or … Will we choose to see God’s hand in the midst of our pain and suffering? Will we embrace His will for us? Will we declare our trust in Him and fall at His feet in worship? Will we bring the broken pieces of our lives to Him and allow Him to use them to create something beautiful, something that brings Him glory? (page 111).
No matter what storm you face, you need to know that God loves you. He has not abandoned you. ~Franklin Graham, American evangelist and missionary
Max Lucado asks in his book You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times, “We can’t always see what God is doing, but can’t we assume he is up to something good?” (page 146).
Powerful questions. Perspective-changing questions. Will I embrace God’s will for me, even if it includes continued pain and suffering? Will I declare trust in Him as I worship Him even in this hard place? Can I assume even when, or maybe especially when, I don’t understand how He is up to something good?
My answer didn’t come easily or quickly, and I still don’t say it lightly. But I confidently believe that whatever life looks like right now or in the next moment, God will bring good from it.
This is an excerpt from my book, Living in the Shadow of Death. In it, I open my heart to show the turmoil that I walked through as my husband and I faced some major shifts in our lives.
Does God have a purpose for the turmoil or tragedy you are walking through? Does a good God seriously allow loss and send pain? How can that lurking feeling of dreading tomorrow be part of abundant life with Christ?
Sometimes grief hits us unexpectedly. Losing a job, the end of a relationship, a health crisis, an unexpected move, a rebellious teen and other difficult circumstances force themselves upon us and demand our full attention. Fear, insecurity, and loneliness intimidate us into quiet submission. They scream at us that life will never again be as good as it was, and they attempt to dictate what choices we should make from now on.
But what if we could push them back outside our front door?
With loving concern and unyielding devotion for those facing a loss they never imagined, Carrie opens up her heart to reveal the biblical truths she’s learned through the heart-wrenching turbulence in her own life over the last two decades. She answers questions that many Christians struggle with but dare not whisper out loud:
- Is God really good?
- Does the presence of pain and loss cancel out the abundant life promised to us?
- How can we follow God when life seems to only bring heartache?
- Is He even trustworthy?
If that sounds like the questions rambling around your head, take heart! Carrie’s been there too. Within these pages, she tells some of her very unchristian-like doubts and how she developed an intense faith and abiding trust even while Living in the Shadow of Death.