Themes of Ruth, Part 2: Love Begets Love
In a recent group Bible study, we have been working through the book of Ruth. As we go, I’ve been using [Judges, Ruth: Revised Edition (The NIV Application Commentary) | K. Lawson Younger 📚] for extra personal study. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections with you as I’ve been traveling through Ruth. If you have not read the book recently, these reflections will make more sense if you spend 10 minutes and read the book first.
In the first part of Ruth, we meet Naomi. She has faced great hardship. She has followed the lead of her husband from Bethlehem in Israel to Moab (v1). We learn that in Moab, she has lost her husband and her two sons to death (v3-5). All that is left is her two daughters-in-law. These two women are devoted and follow her on the road back to Bethlehem.
Naomi urges these two women to return to Bethlehem, but there is a distinct sense that her urging isn’t precisely borne of her love for Orpah and Ruth. There are clues in the text that Naomi is turned inward and focussed on her own bitterness.
Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?…If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons…No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.
— Ruth 1:11-13 (ESV)
Do you see the reasons why Naomi urges them to return? It is partially for their own sakes, so that they can find new husbands and have families. But the distinct sense I get is that Naomi pities herself and is angry with YHWH for the turn her life has taken. She’s lost hope (v12), she is bitter, and sees God working against her (v13). When she reaches Bethlehem, she tells the women there to call her “bitter,” instead of her own name because that is what has welled inside her.
In Chapter 2, Ruth, who has followed Naomi from Moab to Bethlehem, offers to go and try to find someone who will let her glean their field for food. Without husbands or households, Naomi and Ruth are in a very precarious position. They have no “bread-winner” in the family, and it doesn’t seem that any of their kinsmen have sought to provide for them.
Ruth takes the responsibility for finding food upon herself. When she does, she asks Naomi for permission to go and glean. Naomi’s response is a mere two words: “Go, daughter.” I don’t want to dig for meaning where there is none, but it seems significant to me that Naomi offers neither to help nor any words of encouragement. She is turned inward, self-pitying, and bitter.
Freedom from Bitterness
In Ruth 2, by God’s providential care, Ruth meets Boaz. Boaz not only protects a vulnerable young woman and allows her to do what the law requires—to glean his field—but he gives her yet more food and orders his men to allow her to glean beyond what the law requires.
She gleaned so much that Naomi is shocked from her bitterness.
And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”
— Ruth 2:20 (ESV)
No longer does she give a two-word sentence, but pronounces a blessing over another. From this point in the story onward, Naomi is changed. No longer is she self-pitying and bitter. No longer does she fear death from starvation and abandonment by her community. Boaz’s kind act has drawn her to look outward again.
Whereas she was content to allow Ruth to provide for them, now she begins working for their family’s restoration. She coaches Ruth and provides her with direction on how to gain Boaz’s attention as a redeemer of their family and land.
On the cross, Jesus provided us the ultimate example of self-sacrificial love. He died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:7). We didn’t deserve to have God become man and die for us, just as Naomi and Ruth didn’t deserve the over-and-above kindness that Boaz showed them.
Yet when we survey that wondrous cross, we see the great gift we have been given, and we are moved to leave behind bitterness, self-pity, and give of ourselves to others. We seek to help others see the greatness of the gift we have been given, so that gift can work in and transform their lives too. So that they too, can be free to love God and love neighbor.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (ESV)
Christianity Is True ✝️
Were the Philistines a real people group? Or, rather, were they a real people group as depicted and at the time scripture was written? You might be surprised to find that some archaeologists and Old Testament scholars challenge scripture’s portrayal of one of Israel’s longest-standing enemies.
Michael Jones walks us through the challenges to the Bible’s portrayal of the Philistines. He reminds us that the Old Testament scriptures we have probably did not reach their final form until the period of the Exile (6th century B.C.). Some aspects of these historical books may be “updated” so that readers in the time of the prophet-editors would know the places being mentioned.
There’s a lot more here, so if archaeology and bits of Bible trivia intrigue you, watch this relatively short 18-minute video.
The Christian Apologetics Debate Simulator is a great tool. You start with a category like “God exists”, then you pick a common argument for or against that category, like “No, God’s properties require contradictions.” The website will then give you a productive discussion of both the objection and one or more responses to the objection.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
Does God Command That We Curse Our Enemies? (with Charlie Trimm) | Think Biblically with Sean McDowell and Scott Rae 🎧 →
Sean McDowell and Scott Rae interview Old Testament Professor Charlie Trimm about the imprecatory Psalms. These poetic calls for a physical, violent judgment on our enemies often make us uncomfortable and seem to conflict with Jesus’ call for us to “turn the other cheek,” among other pacifist statements.
Did the command to love our enemies only start with Jesus? Were Old Testament followers of YHWH under different rules? How should we apply these Psalms to our lives? Listen to Dr. Trimm’s answers to these questions and more.
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
Note, this podcast deals with mature themes. Please do not listen to it with children in the room.
There’s no doubt that our modern world (at least the modern west) is infatuated with sex. You only need to turn on any modern movie or TV show rated for teens and above to know that. How do we avoid being overcome ourselves? Piper sees the primary problem as triviality.
We have lost, by and large, our capacity for being staggered by divine grandeur, and we live at a low dog-in-heat level. TV is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are pressed by publishers to be trivial. Worship styles become increasingly trivial. We trifle with our little jokey ways so that everybody will feel kind of comfortable, because that’s what they feel when they watch TV, and if they can feel comfortable and at home in our jokey churches, they might come back.
The primary solution? Seek to be awed by God’s overpowering goodness instead:
The deepest cure for our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies. I have them, I use them, I teach them. I’ve got my own strategies against lust. That’s not the deepest cure. The deepest cure is to be intellectually — and I underline that word. I’m not going to apologize for theology and doctrine and head, but I’m going to now say the second one. The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by God.
Read and Reflect 📖
We find hyperbole throughout scripture, for example, Jesus was a master of hyperbole. Dr. Schreiner knows that and gives several examples of how Jesus used hyperbole.
But he also finds dangers in hyperbole. When we label others’ (especially Christians) views pejoratively and hyperbolically without lovingly reading them, we “dull to sleep” and lose our witness to the truly dangerous views.
One person’s hyperbole may be another person’s truth, but I can think of several examples of hyperbole that I have encountered over the years. For instance, attaching any importance to works can be dismissed as new perspective, any concern for genuine holiness is called fundamentalist, any reference to racism is labeled as Critical Race Theory, any restrictions on women in ministry are ascribed to patriarchy.
God takes extremely seriously “bearing false witness” against another. That includes misrepresenting their views for clicks or likes. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen (well-meaning) Christians on social media misrepresent another’s view, usually with a pithy meme. If you’ve ever seen something like, “If evolution is true, then why are there still monkeys?” then you have seen the bearing of false witness. Nobody who believes evolution believes that.
But really, I have seen this in the realm of political engagement. Both sides, left and right, are guilty of misrepresenting the views of the other party to stir up people to action, to evoke emotion in their listeners, and to get a “like.” This is so dangerous, as Schreiner explains:
In the polarized atmosphere in which we live, the kudos we receive may energize us to be even more hyperbolic because being part of controversy can be exciting and thrilling. The boredom of ordinary days can be transcended as we feel amped up by a new controversy.
We must always be vigilant for the truth of the gospel. But overheated rhetoric and flaming keyboards can actually numb us when a real heresy arises. The hyperbolic arrows slung so often and so recklessly may provoke us to say to those who raise concerns, “Here we go again. Another baseless charge from those always trying to stoke the fires.”
- Covenant and God's Purpose for the World (Short Studies in Biblical Theology) | Thomas Schreiner 📚
- The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments | Thomas Schreiner 📚
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
In this article, Murrell looks at Critical Theory (and the associated Critical Race Theory) in three entirely different ways. First, as the commonly understood (at least in more academic circles) “Critical Theory as a Method.”
It is not surprising that the evangelical thinkers who have argued against the outright rejection of Critical Theory have been academics. When Alan Jacobs first engaged this debate in the summer of 2020, he found the debate “puzzling.” In a series of blog posts over the summer, Jacobs attempted to clear up some of the terminological confusion and provide Christians with “a response to Critical Theory.”
In a series of hastily written yet erudite and insightful posts, Jacobs made two main arguments. First, Jacobs argued that “some of the questions raised by ‘critical theory’ are empirical ones’” and thus should be “assessed by gathering and sifting evidence.” For example, “has the history of what became the United States been deeply, indeed essentially, implicated in the slave trade since 1619?” or “is our society still dominated by white supremacy?” Second, Jacobs argued that one could be a “deeply orthodox Christian and answer ‘Yes’ to all those questions” and that one could be a “deeply orthodox Christian and answer ‘No’ to them all. It would depend on the evidence you gather and how you evaluate it.”
Second, he mentions the newer, but still well-understood phenomenon of Critical Theory as a metanarrative, or worldview (as C.S. Lewis described, the set of glasses we use to view the world).
In an article in Mere Orthodoxy, Anthony Bradley also responded to the SBC seminary presidents’ statement making a detailed case for why “Critical Race Theory isn’t a Threat for Presbyterians.” In short, because of their confessional framework and theology of common grace, Presbyterians can take an “‘eat the meat and spit out the bones’ approach to cultural theories like Critical Race Theory” (as can, I would argue, any thinking Christian).
Once again, we see a tragic instance of evangelicals talking past one another. While the SBC presidents were clearly (but strangely) only engaging Critical Theory as a metanarrative, Charlie Dates and Anthony Bradley clearly were viewing it as a method — a set of lenses that made at least some phenomena clearer.
But then Murrell brings us a new, third option to the table.
If Critical Theory as a method is an academic activity (asking questions and gathering evidence about power and oppression along particular axes of inequality) and Critical Theory as metanarrative is a totalizing worldview (interpreting all of life and history through the lens of power/race/class/gender etc.), then Critical Theory as mood is an affective response to perceived systemic injustice (feeling and expressing anger, sorrow, and weariness about oppression on the basis of race/gender/class etc.).
I’m not sure how I feel about this third mode of critical theory. Murrell’s explanation of the first two options is clear and succinct. His explanation of critical theory as “mood” is somewhat less clear. Racial (and other power dynamic) injustices certainly affect many Christians on an emotional level. And that, I think, is right.
Is that “critical theory?” That I’m less certain of. It is the case that some Christians react against the emotive response to injustice by claiming that we should only analyze the facts. I think Murrell is correct that these Christians would decry the emotive response as something connected to critical race theory, but should they do so? It’s unclear to me if Murrell thinks so.
When we see that emotional response, I believe that we must be careful to not decry this as “critical theory.” Instead, we should see it for what it is: an emotional response to injustice. And that emotional response to injustice fills scripture. The Hebrew Scriptures contain reams of poetry connected to crying for justice. Many Christians avoid the Hebrew prophetic books like Jeremiah, Amos, and Obadiah, but most of us have read the Psalms. Sometimes, like with the imprecatory Psalms, the words make us uncomfortable.
We need to reckon with those uncomfortable words in scripture and understand how to apply them properly. There are wrong words to say in the face of injustice, but Christians also need to enter into the pain of others, walk with them in it, and fight for solutions. Remaining immovable in the face of injustice is unbiblical and un-Christian. Critical theory as a metanarrative or worldview is dangerous and flawed, but this topic requires nuance because the other two “modes” don’t necessarily have the same downsides and require more careful thought and application.
I encourage you to read Murrell’s article for more eloquent thoughts about this relevant topic.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
I’m writing this out of some personal grief. In recent years, I have watched churches I love dearly fracture, and even break apart. And in the cases I have in mind, the breaks weren’t over doctrinal disagreements or gross immorality, but over offenses given and taken. Longtime friends, having lost trust in one another, could no longer fellowship together. Like most breakups, they’re complicated. Certain parties bear more responsibility than others. But the heartbreaking result is that once-vibrant worshiping communities have ruptured, sometimes leaving a remnant struggling to rebuild from the rubble.
The first step to a fractured church is an offense. When we say something knowingly or unknowingly hurtful to another, or when we hear something that seems to be knowingly hurtful to us, we bear offense. How do we overcome this?
Paul had seen this damage firsthand. He had grieved over it. And so his instructions to the church in Rome were full of urgency — urgency the Holy Spirit wants us to feel over our churches as we read them today. The Spirit, through Paul, wants us to love one another with aggressive grace.
I call it “aggressive grace” for two reasons. First, we are not called to love one another as we deserve to be loved, but as Jesus loved us — with shocking, remarkably gracious love (John 15:12). Second, it’s aggressive because it is a remarkably pursuing, persevering, selfishness-slaying, overcoming love. Such aggressively gracious love is otherworldly, a taste of heaven on earth.
It is so difficult to overcome emotional hurt. It is often easier to just hit the eject button and leave the relationship. But we will spend eternity with one another, and by our love for one another the world knows that we are God’s children.
We are called to do more. I have not always done well at this. I naturally avoid confrontation. And while I think that some people are much too quick to confront, and I am good at letting things roll by without a response and without letting it bother me, there are times when confrontation is needed, and I tend to retreat from that.
I need to do better at lovingly discussing concerns with my brothers and sisters in Christ. This article was helpful for me to think Biblically about how to love others better. Self-reflect, and maybe you will find areas where you can do better to unite the church where you are called.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
– Matthew 5:3 (CSB)