The Door That Only Pain Will Open

51Kg8ENizPLEvery once in a while I start reading a book where the journey is so rich and impactful, I start dreading the final chapter.

That happened when I read Walter Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary. It happened again recently when I read Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Professor Ellen F. Davis.

If you don’t know Ellen Davis, she is the Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.

Besides being a highly respected biblical scholar, Dr. Davis is a wise pastoral guide. She shepherds the reader through some of the most familiar biblical texts and doesn’t dodge the tougher ones. In fact, she tackles some of the most troubling texts. Case in point is her chapter on YHWH’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Her book is a strong argument for why we need more female scholars engaged in biblical and theological studies. The addition of female scholars doesn’t negate what men have done, but rather builds on their work and enhances it. This book gives solid evidence that we need both perspectives to begin unleashing more of the Bible’s life-giving power.

Davis divides her book into five sections.

  1. Pain and Praise
  2. The Cost of Love
  3. The Art of Living Well
  4. Habits of the Heart
  5. Torah of the Earth

In each section, she takes up different Old Testament texts (from Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah), episodes (“The Burning Bush,” “The Binding of Isaac”), and entire books (Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes).

As I’ve read, I’ve been stunned by her insights. I’ve wept over the tenderness of God’s heart for us. Each chapter took me deeper into the text and stirred a greater love in my heart for God and a hunger to know the God of the Old Testament better.

It is hard to choose one excerpt from so many eye-opening and heartening statements. But here’s one that I found especially powerful in her chapter on the book of Job.

The book of Job is about human pain; it is also about theology, the work of speaking about God. In the last chapter, God takes the friends to task, saying, ‘You have not spoken accurately about me, as has my servant Job’ (42:7). Here God is pointing obliquely to what is so remarkable about this book. It shows us a person in the sharpest imaginable pain, yet speaking accurately about God.

Job gives us immeasurably more than a theology of suffering. It gives us the theology of a sufferer. In it we hear authoritative speech about God that comes from lips taut with anguish. From this book above all others in scripture we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority.

The sufferer who keeps looking for God has, in the end, privileged knowledge. The one who complains to God, pleads with God, rails at God, does not let God off the hook for a minute—she is at last admitted to a mystery. She passes through a door that only pain will open, and is thus qualified to speak of God in a way that others, whom we generally call more fortunate, cannot speak.

Hopefully, this will inspire you to acquaint yourself with her book.

To hear more from her directly, Professor Davis will be Pete Enns’ podcast guest today (Monday, July 31) to discuss the practical value on the Old Testament—exactly what this book is about.

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The Blessed Alliance in Fort Collins

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“Sometimes when you’re searching for answers you get more than you bargained for.”

That was the opening sentence in Half the Church. It was also the opening sentence in the message I gave last week at Cru17 in Fort Collins when I spoke about the Blessed Alliance to the Jesus Film Project staff.

One of those “more than I bargained for” moments (and there have been many) came when I was simply trying to find solid footing in my own story. A ten year stretch of singleness knocked me off-course from what I understood to be God’s highest calling for me as a woman—to be a wife and mother.

I went back to the creation narrative to find out if God’s vision for his daughters included all of our stories from first to final breath. That’s where I got a whole lot more than I bargained for.

From a biblical story I’ve heard since I was a little girl, I learned that my true calling as a female started at birth. According to Genesis, every girl child born is an indispensible ezer-warrior (Genesis 2:18) for God’s purposes.

But I also learned that relationships between God’s sons and daughters are essential to God’s purposes for the world. He created his image bearers to reflect his character, to do his work in the world, to look after things on his behalf, and to do it together.

According to Genesis 1-2, human relationships have cosmic repercussions for good or ill—for the benefit or detriment of God’s kingdom on earth. How we work together (or don’t) as allies in every venue impacts the advance of God’s purposes in the world one way or another.

This entails a whole lot more getting along better or sharing power. Current debates in the church don’t take us nearly far enough. The Blessed Alliance is a kingdom strategy designed for the flourishing of all humanity and all creation. It’s recovery is a central aspect of Jesus’ gospel.

You could say, the Blessed Alliance is the spiritual equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Only the Blessed Alliance is not destructive. It is constructive and gospel powerful. It is, in fact, the best thing that can happen to a human being, and it is only good news to any person, culture, or location on the planet that feels its effect.

In an earlier blog I wrote:

God’s original vision—a vision he has never abandoned but revives in the work of his son—was for relationships between men and women to be dazzling points of light on this spinning globe. Dynamics between men and women were never intended to be a battle of the sexes or a heated debate within Christian circles. Male/female relationships in Christ are to be a glowing testament to the fact that we are followers of Jesus. This is where God means to put on display a gospel-powered love. This is where the world is supposed to see men and women laying down their lives for others, offering strength and wisdom to each other, and investing ourselves fully for God’s kingdom.  —“The Blessed Alliance”

Needless to say, I take every opportunity that comes my way to talk about the Blessed Alliance and expand the conversation. The Jesus Film team’s invitation to Fort Collins was the latest. I will be savoring for a long time the conversations I had with many of them—both men and women—afterwards.

The Blessed Alliance showed up in print for the first time in Lost Women of the Bible. It is a major theme in every subsequent book I’ve written (The Gospel of Ruth, Half the Church, and Malestrom)Every book I’ve written puts the Blessed Alliance on breathtaking display in the biblical narratives I unpack. The Blessed Alliance shows up in stories of Deborah, Barak, and Jael, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, Esther and Mordecai, Mary and Joseph, Jesus and Mary of Bethany, and Paul and the women of Philippi (to name only a few examples).

But there is still so much more to explore and understand. Work so far has only scratched the surface. So Frank and I are currently in the process of researching, discussing, and probing further this vital topic for a book on the Blessed Alliance we will be writing together.

Stay tuned for more news on this project and also news of when Lexham Press will release my just completed sequel to The Gospel of Ruth.

[Photo aboveby Citycommunications at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, Link]


Fort Collins Memories:

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I can’t imagine a better friend than Judy Douglass! She and I were allies in launching and leading the Synergy Women’s Network. Couldn’t have done it without her. Fort Collins blessed me with one-on-one time with Judy. That alone was worth the trip!

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I was privileged to attend this incredible gathering of strong ezer-warriors at the Ethnic Women Leaders’ Lunch. Their presentations were passionate and powerfully eye-opening. Cru is blessed!

carolyn talking to Rasool Berry

This was the third time my path has crossed with Rasool Berry. He played in the Impact Movement band at the Synergy2007 Conference in Orlando, was emcee when I spoke at Cru11 in Fort Collins, and at Cru17 we continued talking about the Blessed Alliance—a conversation I expect will continue.

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Fun dinner sharing stories with these RedBuds in Fort Collins (L-R: Gina Brenna Butz, Beth Pandy Bruno, Halee Gray Scott, CCJ, Judy Douglass, Angie Cramer Weszely, and Leslie Troutman Verner

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Even in the middle of a packed two-day schedule, I found time to savor the beauty of this Colorado State University summer garden.

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The ESV takes one small step for “mankind”!

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The common practice in Christian circles of choosing a “life verse” isn’t a practice I’ve found helpful. It’s simply too easy to lift a biblical tweet out of context and misinterpret it entirely. It can be shattering only to discover years later that a verse that promised so much had nothing to do with how you understood it.

Having said that, however, doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites.

Back in my early twenties I came across a verse that I found useful in tormenting a young pastor with whom I was working. He had an annoying habit of pontificating on his views of women, often flinging verses at me, to make sure I knew my place. I recall once when he insisted that single female missionaries should step aside as soon as a man arrived on the scene, even if the man was a brand new convert. Evidently, it was more important for a male novice to do the job, than a woman with the training, gifts, and years of experience.

In a moment of inspiration, I asked him if he would like to hear my life verse. When he took the bait, from the New King James Version (the translation of choice at the time) I quoted Psalm 116:11: “All men are liars.” For some strange reason, he was not amused.

The look on his face was priceless.

Given the ESV’s stated aversion to what General Editor Wayne Grudem labels “gender-neutral” language found in other translations (e.g., NRSV, TNIV, NLT), I fully expected the ESV to back me up. After all, the Hebrew word for “men” in Psalm 116:11 (hā·’ā·ḏām) is the same Hebrew word that appears in Genesis 1:26-27 and that the ESV stubbornly translates “man” (see “Lost in Translation”). They insist on that translation even though “mankind,” “human beings,” or “people” is more gender accurate and certainly not subject to misinterpretation by modern readers for whom “man” or “men” signals male (as it did for my pastor friend at the time).

Imagine my surprise when I recently looked up Psalm 116:11 in the ESV and read “All mankind are liars” (emphasis added).

It seems, in this rare instance at least, ESV translators are unwilling to run the risk of readers thinking “men” in this verse is pointing a finger at males as liars at the exclusion of females.

The ESV’s inconsistency resulting in the loss of “men” in Psalm 116:11 is a price I’m willing to pay in the cause of gender accuracy. And although this represents a significant breach in the ESV’s firm commitment to retain “man” and “men” in universal statements to preserve a so-called “masculine feel” to the Bible, I applaud them for taking one small step for “mankind.”


Published originally at Missio Alliance

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Subversive Advice from Eugene Peterson

eugene_peterson-250w-tn“Prayer is subversive activity. It involves a more or less act of defiance against any claim by the current regime. . . . [As we pray,] slowly but surely, not culture, not family, not government, not job, not even the tyrannous self can stand against the quiet power and creative influence of God’s sovereignty. Every natural tie of family and race, every willed commitment to person and nation is finally subordinated to the rule of God.”

—Eugene Peterson, Where Your Treasure Is:  Psalms that Summon You from Self to Community

In the forward to Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual DirectionRodney Clap quotes the above and goes to explain that Peterson’s call to subversive prayer  ultimately produces subversive actions:

“. . . common Christian acts. The acts of sacrificial love, justice, and hope. . . . If we develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities—they go to our jobs with us each day, to our families each night—then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a little bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are people waiting for him.”

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My Meeting with Pope Francis

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Ever since white smoke billowed out of the Vatican chimney back in 2013, I’ve been an admirer of Pope Francis. I love his humble spirit and his heart as reflected in his care for the poor and the disenfranchised. No one was prepared for the new pope from Argentina to reject the palatial papal residence for a simple two-bedroom apartment and to drive himself around in a Fiat instead of traveling in a chauffeured Mercedes.

I find his bold unvarnished criticisms of prosperity, power, intolerance, and injustice refreshing. Pope Francis is giving the world and the church (both Catholic and Protestant) a much-needed radical vision of how it looks to follow Jesus.

Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed when Pope Francis’ 2015 historic visit to Philadelphia occurred when I was on the West Coast. Little did I realize, when my friend Mae Cannon invited me to contribute a chapter to a book she was editing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that I would get a second chance.

Pope Francis and I would meet as allies in a common cause on the pages of that book.

Multiple Narratives Toward Peace

9781498298803Hot off the press, A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land, is a collection of twenty-nine short essays by a wide variety of individuals and perspectives, including Pope Francis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The purpose of the book is to create an expanded space for Christians to listen, and learn from differing viewpoints, narratives, and research about the Holy Land and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Too often we default to a binary perspective where the goal is to decide which side we’re on, when the situation is far more complex.

These essays move the conversation beyond theory by putting the faces and suffering of real people on the crisis and by probing the biblical text for wisdom. At the heart of the book is the profound conviction that American Christians have a major role to play in promoting peace and justice in the region.

My chapter, “Unlikely Friendships,” recalls my family’s experience of living in Oxford, England during the First Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. The war created tensions in Oxford, where anti-war sentiments ran high and many viewed the war as a battle for the American automobile. Friends from other countries expressed their disapproval of American involvement by withdrawing from us.

During that time, we were drawn into unlikely friendships within the Oxford University student community with two neighbors who were experiencing similar isolation—a devout Muslim from India and an Israeli who was a regular commentator on British news networks during the war. We did a lot of listening.

That experience was proof that Oxford offers more than one kind of education.

Take Up and Read!

My copy of A Land Full of God just arrived, and I am already learning from the contributions of other writers. The book itself is a work of grace and an important contribution toward peace in a conflict that festers at the center of the Middle East. Mae deserves enormous credit for her vision for the project and for assembling such a diverse group of writers.

I’m convinced this book is strategically important for the church and feel strongly that it deserves a wide reading—not just because it documents my official meeting with Pope Francis, but because of the potential impact the church can have for peace. The personal stories are gripping, the biblical teachings speak to the heart, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis is an issue we can’t ignore.


A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land

Editor:
Mae Elise Cannon

Foreword by Muslim & Jewish leaders:
Aziz Abu Sarah and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth

Contributors in chapter order:
Dale Hanson Bourke, David Neff, Rich Nathan, His Holiness Pope Francis, Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Tony Maalouf, Michael Brown, John Phelan, Andrea Smith, Clayborne Carson, Troy Jackson, Donald Lewis, David Gushee, Susan Michael, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Honorable John Kerry, Paul Alexander, Bob Roberts, David Anderson, Darrell Bock, Jerry White, Shane Claiborne, Carolyn Custis James, Lynne Hybels, Eugene Cho, Jim Wallis, Joel Hunter, Bill Hybels, and Tony Campolo.


Published originally at Missio Alliance

Also published at HuffPost

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Girl Power!

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Whenever I speak at women’s conferences about God’s purposes for his daughters, women who find this message to be as life-changing as I do inevitably wonder how differently their stories would read if they had heard this message when they were young girls.

I wonder too.

How would my story read differently if I had understood as a young girl that being God’s image bearer involves a mission that comes with responsibility and a call to action? What if I had known that ruling and subduing God’s creation are women’s jobs too? What more would I have done if I had known that God created me to be an ezer-warrior for his kingdom? And, more to the point, how can we get this message to our girls?

Well, we are about to find out. And the implications of what follows are significant!

Girls in the Pow Wow Room

Several months ago, my friend Jenny told me about a group of sixth and seventh grade girls at a private Christian school who, with their passionate art teacher, were studying and discussing their way through my book, Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew.

41ylC8oL6mLTo my knowledge, this is the youngest group to tackle this read, and I was eager to meet them. That happened last week. When I arrived, the girls led me to a small room—the “Pow Wow Room”—located inside their school Art Department where they regularly huddle together to dig into this study.

Trust me, the world is going to hear from these girls. They are smart and they are using their minds to process a lot of information. They are getting the message that God has a big vision for his daughters, and they have plenty to say.

Putting it mildly, lights are going on.

Reflecting on what she had learned, one girl told me, “I’m just as special as any boy.” She wasn’t being defiant or combative. She was simply stating a fact that, sadly, was brand new to her.

When there are precious few resources for young Christian girls that challenge them to go deeper in their relationship with God, to cultivate and employ the gifts he has given them, and to embrace his calling on their lives, the work this group of girls has done represents something of a break-through.

It breaks from the practice in the church of teaching girls that God’s purpose for them lies somewhere in the future and is secondary to what their brothers can and will do. It proves that they are looking for substance and are willing to work for it. It gives them a whole new vision of themselves that isn’t based on how they look or how the culture defines them. Instead it challenges them with God’s vision for his daughters that begins at birth, lasts until they breathe their last, and calls them to be more.

It’s the same vision we all wish we’d known when we were their age.

What Christian Girls Hear

For those unfamiliar with Lost Women of the Bible, the book features some of the best-known women in the Bible—Sarah, Esther, and Mary of Nazareth, for example. Hardly women we’d describe as lost. Yet we’ve lost sight of them and their significant contributions because their stories have been overlooked, marginalized, diminished, toned down, and explained away until we’ve not only lost them, we’ve lost the potency of their examples.

One girl remarked about the chapter on Mrs. Noah, “It is sad that we don’t even know her name.”

“Their stories have been buried under layers of low expectations and the belief that God is doing his most important work through men. It is a profound loss—not just to women, but also to Christian men.”    
                                                                               —Lost Women of the Bible

The girls told me they have experienced that loss. Stories they mainly hear in church and Sunday School are about men—Moses, David, Daniel, and the twelve disciples, to name a few. But women? Not so much. Maybe on Mother’s Day or around Christmas. Overall, girls aren’t hearing the bracing stories of women in the Bible who will speak meaning, purpose, and courage into their lives.

Pastors need to know, young girls are listening.

Instead, what girls hear about women is often negative. They’ve gotten the message that Eve is responsible for the fall of humanity which, besides being inaccurate, implies all women and girls are a hazard. Yet Eve—the unfallen Eve—remains God’s official blueprint for his daughters, no matter how young or old they may be. Once that message is unpacked, it is empowering a lot of women today, and now these sixth and seventh grade girls too.

Before reading Lost Women of the Bible, the girls didn’t realize the Bible contains so many gripping stories about women. They are well aware that the patriarchal context intensifies the potency of these narratives. What girls typically hear about women from the church doesn’t call them to strength or to courageous faith. It doesn’t motivate them to aspire.

These girls are aspiring now.

One of the sixth graders has abandoned her dream of becoming a veterinarian and now aspires to go to seminary to become a Bible teacher. Who knows what the rest of them will do!

Who are those Lost Women?

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The women I cover in Lost Women of the Bible are some of the most familiar. Yet, the significance of their contributions and the battles they engage deserve deeper study.

Some of the lost women are shapers of Judeo-Christian theology. Sarah’s pregnancy at ninety fuels our faith in God’s power to keep his word. The prophetess Hagar (slave girl of Abraham and Sarah) teaches us the intimate side of God. She names him El Ro’i, “the God who sees me.” The barrenness that made Hannah a failure as a wife and as a woman became the crucible in which she learned and from which she ultimately taught her son (the future mentor of Israel’s kings) deep truth about God’s sovereignty. Hannah is appropriately regarded as the theologian of the monarchy.

Some of the lost women risked their lives to advance the purposes of God. Judah threatened Tamar, his twice-widowed daughter-in-law, with an honor killing. The very young, pregnant-out-of-wedlock Mary of Nazareth could easily have faced stoning. Likewise, Esther took her life into her hands when she stood up to the two most powerful men in the world and identified herself as a member of a people threatened by genocide.

Some of the lost women were very young and likely in their early teens when they enter the story. In patriarchal cultures, girls are marriageable when they reach puberty. So Hagar, Tamar, Esther, and Mary of Nazareth fit into that age group.

I learned that when the girls reached the chapter on Tamar, they encountered a little short-lived parental hesitation. After all, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and duped Judah into impregnating her.

Is this something young girls should be reading?

Turns out the Tamar chapter had a profound and positive impact on them. They found her courage inspiring and were puzzled that they’d never heard her story before. One girl expressed bewilderment that any pastor would avoid her story. She wondered out loud, “Shouldn’t we be reading the whole Bible?”

Empowered!

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My interaction with these elementary school girls was a strong reminder that we should never underestimate what young girls can understand. Nor should we limit what they can and will do when they discover the Bible’s powerful message for girls. They can handle the fact that the bar has been raised for them.

The word they used most often during my time with them was “empowered.” They’ve been empowered and validated by the courageous stories of women in the Bible. Several of them said that what they learned brought them closer to God.

You should have heard them pray!

Through the stories of his daughters recorded in the Bible, God has empowered these girls to live boldly and courageously for his purposes. They don’t intend to hold back.

The implications of their study addresses, at least in one way, the question “How can we get this message to our girls?” The girls I met don’t need, nor do they want, a dumbed-down message. Surely other girls can read and learn from Lost Women of the Bible too—on their own, or with their teachers, mentors, moms, and dads.

Oh, and about that Pow Wow room in the Art Department? They’ve renamed it “The Ezer Room!” I suspect we haven’t heard the last from the girls who are spending time in that space.


Published originally at at Missio Alliance

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Mark Driscoll’s Cinderella Story

What he gets right and what he gets wrong.

Cinderella & Prince Charming

Some mornings, I don’t need coffee to jolt me awake. Sometimes all it takes is a tweet.

The tweet that did it recently came from a friend who, with a simple “ahem,” forwarded a Mark Driscoll tweet to me. Driscoll was promoting his current sermon series (and eBook) on the Old Testament book of Ruth. Anyone who knows me or has read The Gospel of Ruth will understand why that tweet woke me up.

I live and breathe the book of Ruth.

Naturally, my curiosity got the best of me, so I clicked on the link to see what Pastor Mark was up to. The link took me to a video from the series entitled, Ruth—Redeeming Romance.

With a title like that, I was not surprised to learn Driscoll views the book of Ruth as a romance between Boaz and Ruth and sees Boaz as the Kinsman Redeemer hero who rescues Ruth from her abysmal life as a single impoverished woman. Naturally, it also reinforces his views of manhood and womanhood.

In the sermon, he categorizes Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz all as “singles” and uses the book of Ruth as a jumping off point to advise singles about dating and sexual purity and to coach single women to look for a man like Boaz whose qualifications pass muster—he “loves God and has a job.”

What did surprise me was his unabashed, effusive description of Ruth as a “Cinderella story.” At least on this point, I think Driscoll got it right. It’s also where he gets it wrong. The label “Cinderella” is an open admission that there’s a problem with this view.

Cinderella in the Bible?

According to a Cinderella hermeneutic, Ruth, a young, destitute, immigrant widow, catches the eye of the rich and powerful older Boaz as she is scavenging (or gleaning) in his field for leftover scraps of grain. Naomi, Ruth’s widowed mother-in-law, interprets his unexpected generosity towards her daughter-in-law as romantic interest. Nothing more comes of it until Naomi gives the hesitant lovers the nudge they need, offering Ruth what Driscoll considers very bad and morally questionable counsel.

She sends Ruth all dolled up, perfumed, and in her best clothes, to present herself to a sleeping Boaz at the threshing floor in the dead of night. Ruth proposes marriage, Boaz accepts, and the man who threatens to spoil it all walks away. Boaz purchases Naomi’s land, marries Ruth, and, before you know it, Ruth gives birth to a baby boy, the grieving Naomi’s spirits revive, and a “happily-ever-after” banner waves triumphantly over the ending.

The genealogy at the end delivers the startling news that this baby is the great grandfather of King David and, as we now know, the ancestor of King Jesus.

Driscoll’s sermon video includes a dramatization where God moves Ruth “from widow to wife, poverty to prosperity, alone to adored, sadness to song, languishing to laughing, misery to motherhood.”

Sounds a lot like Cinderella.

But Ruth isn’t Cinderella, and the Bible isn’t teaching fairytales, which won’t preach anyway, not to congregants whose stories aren’t playing out like that. In order to unearth the deeper meaning of this story, we need to look at the story through the lens of patriarchy—the culture in which the story takes place.

Abandoning Cinderella for a Better Love Story

Within the patriarchal culture, a woman’s chief contribution in life was to produce sons for her husband. Women in the Bible are desperate for sons. None of them are begging God for daughters. Under patriarchy, a woman’s value is gauged by counting her sons. Sons are essential for family survival. The fate the ancients feared most was for a man to die without a male heir to perpetuate the family for another generation.

So when a post-menopausal Naomi loses her husband and both her sons, she plummets from the status of an honored mother of two sons to a zero. Little wonder she describes herself as “empty.” Death destroyed her life’s work.

Far from a Cinderella story, the book of Ruth is a Job story. Naomi is a female Job. That changes the entire book and makes God the rightful focus of the story.

Like Job, Naomi loses everything, sees Yahweh as her adversary, voices bitterness of soul, and raises hard questions about God that her story engages. Naomi believes she has lost God’s love (hesed). Why would Yahweh love her?

Realistically, the “happily-ever-after” evaporates. Life goes on, but these kinds of losses reconfigure a person’s life. Sandy Hook and Gold Star parents will go to their graves in grief, no matter how many good things may happen to them. Don’t ask them to “Get over it.”

God doesn’t speak to Naomi through a prophet, a voice from heaven, a thunderbolt, or a vision. God communicates his love to her through her immigrant daughter-in-law Ruth whose every action—from her vow, to her gleaning, to her proposal to Boaz, to the birth of the son she gives to Naomi—speaks hesed to Naomi’s empty soul.

Hesed is no ordinary kind of love. It is a loyal, self-giving, costly love that motivates a person to do voluntarily what no one has a right to expect or ask of them. It shows what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

God’s hesed is the bedrock of his people and it saturates the pages of scripture. Ruth’s hesed for Naomi proves to be contagious, as Boaz, his harvesters, and Bethlehem elders all join in the hesed epidemic that spreads through Bethlehem and restores Naomi’s hope in God.

The Real Rescue

Perhaps the most surprising twist in the story is that Ruth isn’t being rescued. She’s the one launching the rescue, and the person being rescued is her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech. She initiates that rescue when her proposal to Boaz turns legal and she confronts him with two Mosaic Laws concerned with rescuing men. The Kinsman Redeemer Law requires the nearest relative to purchase a man’s land if he is forced to sell. The Levirate Law requires the blood brother of a man who dies without a male heir to marry his widow. The first son born to their union takes the place of the dead man on the family tree, including his inheritance.

Ruth’s proposal moves the discussion from the letter to the spirit of the law, as Jesus does generations later in his Sermon on the Mount. Boaz is neither the nearest relative nor Elimelech’s blood brother. He is beyond the letter of the law, but not its spirit.

Ruth isn’t seeking a husband for herself. She is battling for Naomi. In an act of unparalleled faith, barren Ruth volunteers to bear a son. Boaz is dumbfounded. He blesses and praises her for her hesed for Naomi, calls her a woman of valor, vowing that one way or another she will have her request (Ruth 3:10-13).

The Book of Ruth for Today

If Pastor Driscoll is truly concerned about bringing the message of the book of Ruth to a twenty-first century audience, abandoning the Cinderella motif would easily expand his sermon series to an ongoing exploration of the riches of this brief but utterly relevant book.

Who doesn’t need a powerful story of God’s relentless, unbreakable, fiercely stubborn love? In the current unleashing of toxicity in American culture, who of us, as followers of Jesus, doesn’t need to ponder soberly what our attitudes, words, and actions towards others convey about God’s love?

The book of Ruth surfaces issues currently running at epidemic levels in today’s world and presents a stunning display of the radical difference its makes to live as God’s child in this fallen world. The story includes refugees, an undocumented immigrant, and raises the issue of the plight of women and girls. It creates explosive combinations that burst out in gospel living: male and female, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, privileged and vulnerable, Jew and Gentile, and brings an eye-opening gospel perspective to every issue.

The book of Ruth is an open invitation for the church to engage these issues and more. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz become our teachers as they live out in radical self-giving ways what it means to live as God’s sons and daughters—his image bearers—in a fallen world.

That’s when we’ll discover just how much we lose when we settle for a Cinderella story.

Driscoll needs to realize that the Bible is not a Disney movie, but an earthshaking existential confrontation with the deepest issues of life in a fallen world and of the hope that is Jesus.


To learn more about the book of Ruth as a Job story, read The Gospel of Ruth—Loving God Enough to Break the Rules.

To recover powerful stories of men in the Bible who, like Boaz, have gotten lost in translation and deserve to be vindicated, read Malestrom—Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World


This post was first published at www.MissioAlliance.org.

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