In my opinion, the book of Ruth is perhaps the most shockingly relevant book in the Old Testament. I often describe it as a bomb that went off in my life. If you’ve only heard the traditional version—the Ruth and Boaz Cinderella romance that concludes with a “Happily-ever-after!” banner floating over the ending—that’s not the version I’m talking about. We all know that version won’t preach. Certainly not in a world plagued by Covid-19.
More research into the story has unearthed a profoundly down-to-earth narrative that touches real life in the present with surprising force. Which is why I keep learning from and talking about Ruth.
For the latest discussion, check out the Jackie Always Unplugged Podcast below. This discussion with my friend and host Jackie Frazier Roese centers on Finding God in the Margins—my second book unpacking more of this ancient narrative and one of three books she’s featuring on her podcast book club.
Similarities between then and issues we face in the 21st Century are abundant. Which is why I keep digging and finding even more ways the book of Ruth speaks into the present. Consider the current moment we are experiencing.
Ruth’s story takes place in a time of political upheaval (“the days when the judges governed” and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”) and during a fierce famine-driven economic crisis. The story zeroes in on one family that is devastated by premature deaths.
A shattered Naomi (rightly recognized by Old Testament scholars as a female Job) plummets to ground zero of her own life. She assesses the wreckage of what used to be her full and satisfying life and draws dark conclusions about God’s love (hesed) for her.
Fears she expresses then are all-too familiar to us now and can strike the strongest among us when calamity strikes and God seems absent. We need Naomi’s story more than ever right now because many of us are feeling exhausted, isolated, depressed, fearful of or having suffered already the loss of health, loved-ones, jobs, businesses, and homes.
Inevitably we can’t help wondering along with Naomi if God has forgotten us and withdrawn his love.
We also need this story because Naomi discovers through the sacrificial hesed actions that Ruth initiates and Boaz empowers that God hasn’t forgotten his love for her. Their story is a powerful reminder that this pandemic creates a context in which the simplest acts of kindness can speak loudly of God’s unrelenting love to someone who is in despair.
That’s a lot to think about.
Here are a few questions that came up in this conversation:
- Ruth is often characterized as a “damsel in distress,” but is that even accurate?
- How have we mis-read this story as contemporary Americans, distanced from a full-fledged patriarchal society?
- What do we do when we can’t see signs of God’s love for us . . . when the lights go out and grief overtakes us? What can we learn from Naomi’s story?
- What can we learn from Boaz, as he takes his power and privilege and employs it for the good of others?