Naomi: An Example of Steadfast Faith
Oct, 15, 2018 · Courtney Jacob
“When it rains, it pours.” The bills are due, the car breaks down, and you need to take your kid to the emergency room. Or maybe a loved one’s death, a cancer diagnosis, and job loss all crash in on you within that span of a few weeks. Many of us can relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by suffering. You try to move forward, but the blows just keep coming and you feel beaten down and abandoned.
In a poignant moment in the season 3 premiere of NBC’s television show, This Is Us, Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) ends a monologue recounting her cyclical struggles with weight and infertility by mournfully wondering out loud, “When will the universe give me my break?” Some trials in life are temporarily frustrating, but others are devastating, life-altering, and relentless. Most of the time our suffering falls somewhere in between. Many times, in our grief, pain, and anguish, we cry out with our own heart-wrenching, soul-searching questions like Kate’s. Though as Christians the recipient of our questions is less ambiguous than the universe-at-large: we question God.
Naomi’s Life Experience
Like us, the biblical character, Naomi, identifies God at the heart of her troubles. “[T]he Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13b) she declares to her daughters-in-law as she urges them to leave her and return to their families of origin in Moab.
Why did Naomi feel as though God’s hand was against her?
She had experienced extreme loss
Naomi was a foreigner in Moab. She and her husband Elimelek took their sons and left their home in Bethlehem in an effort to survive a severe famine (Ruth 1:1). But then, Elimelek died, leaving Naomi as a widow in a foreign land (Ruth 1:3). In time, her sons took Moabite wives: Orpah and Ruth (Ruth 1:4). This too would likely have disappointed Naomi, at least initially, since Israelites believed this was forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 23:3-6, Deuteronomy 7:1-4). But Naomi’s loss was not yet complete; both of her sons died before either produced a male heir to continue Elimelek’s family name.
She was extremely vulnerable
In their social context, as widows in a foreign land, Naomi and her daughters-in-law were effectively destitute, because they had no male relative to provide for them (Ruth 1:5). With no sons, they had very little prospect for a secure future.
We learn about Naomi’s tragedies in five short verses at the opening of Ruth, but in her book The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, Carolyn Custis James reminds us that “The collapse of Naomi’s world did not happen in a day but was spread out over years of heartache and tragedy...Naomi’s grief was a long time coming, the buildup of years of major disappointments, setbacks, and losses....” (37).
It’s this aspect of Naomi’s reality that most of us can easily relate to and identify within our own stories. We too know that feeling of difficulty accumulating and beating us down over time. It’s what Groundwork host Dave Bast calls “the bitterness of life.”
Faith When Life Beats You Down
Naomi did not sugarcoat her bitterness. Returning home and encountering the women from her village, she lamented:
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).
And yet, if we listen closely to her lament, we encounter a surprisingly strong faith. In the Groundwork episode “Walking in Faith,” host Scott Hoezee gives us one reason we can be sure Naomi still believes and has faith in God when he says, “Atheists and agnostics don’t write Psalms of lament, people of faith do.”
Lament does not indicate that we no longer believe in God. Rather, when we are angry with God, or feel abandoned by him, we actually direct our grief and sorrow straight at him. In a backhanded way, this reflects our belief that he is still involved and does care about the details of our lives.
Steadfast Faith Through the Unknown
When there’s no end in sight, and you’re wondering if God will answer your prayers, it can be extremely difficult to see God at work. But Naomi’s story shows that even when we don’t know how things will end up, we can trust his promises, his laws, and his providence. We find reassurance that God works in ordinary ways, through ordinary people. In Naomi’s story, he did not mitigate her immediate troubles in miraculous ways; instead God restored and redeemed Naomi through the laws he had established long ago and the faithfulness of his people. Yet, through these same ordinary ways, God also works the extraordinary as he orchestrates the lineage of Christ through whom God will redeem all of creation.
Naomi’s story encourages us to remain steadfast in our faith, to rest assured that God provides for the restoration and redemption of his people. No matter how long we wait, our faith is not in vain. Although traumatized, and near despair, Naomi ultimately trusted God’s provisional laws that required landowners to allow the destitute to glean from their fields in the harvest and established a practice of the kinsman redeemer to give justice and relief to the most vulnerable. We trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ, our kinsman redeemer. Like Naomi, no matter how bleak life seems now, we too may look back and be surprised to see where and how God was working all along. If you’d like to learn more about God’s presence and provision in the lives of Naomi and Ruth, download Groundwork’s 4-part study “Ruth: Surprised by God’s Providence.”