I am always interested in what kind of God people believe in, for many of the views we have of God are ill-founded and just plain wrong. People have misconceptions about God’s nature and sometimes reject God only to find out that Christians reject that ‘version’ of God too. We need to have our view of God shape us rather than trying to make God in our image.
C. S. Lewis, when travelling on the journey of grief which comes to all of us at some point in life, wrote that he was not in much danger of ceasing to believe in God, but that ‘the real danger is of seeming to believe such dreadful things about him.’ (‘A Grief Observed’, C. S. Lewis) Naomi seems to me to be in a similar position.
Naomi appears to be a typical example of someone who believes in a God who is always benevolent. When the difficult times come, she finds it hard to work this into her picture of God – so she and her husband make the best of a bad situation and move to Moab. It’s a practical, pragmatic decision (though I’m not convinced it’s a spiritual one.) They appear to live according to the philosophy ‘God helps those who help themselves’ and they just get on with life.
But Naomi’s faith in a benevolent God – while orthodox and true – cannot cope with suffering. When suffering comes and not only her husband but also her two sons die, Naomi becomes bitter. She blames God for her misfortune (Ruth 1:13), cannot see any future for herself (Ruth 1:12) and is angry with God for not giving her the comfortable life she feels she deserved. (Ruth 1:20-21) Life is no longer pleasant for her, but bitter, and she can’t cope with that.
Naomi’s response is how most people respond to tragedy, suffering and misfortune, all of which come to us as part of life in a sin-stained world. We blame God. We may not cease to believe in Him (though some do), but we are in danger of believing dreadful (and wrong) things about Him – that He delights in our suffering, that He is a cruel, vindictive God or that He is indifferent to our pain, for example.
My granddaughter sobs her heart out when left in a class without her mother, believing herself to be abandoned. We too sob our hearts out when tragedy comes, believing ourselves to be abandoned by God. But the truth is my granddaughter is loved and cared for, even though she doesn’t understand why her mother cannot always be present, and the truth is that we are loved and cared for by God even when we don’t understand why He allows certain things in our lives.
Naomi’s bitterness, thankfully, does not have the last word, as she sees God’s providence unfold again in her life through the faithfulness of her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and the obedience of Boaz. Ultimately, her vision of God is restored – and maybe that vision is made even bigger than before.
What kind of God do we believe in? Can we hold onto truth even when we do not see and do not understand? Will we let go of bitterness and believe in God’s goodness even when we feel He has abandoned us?