Imagine you had the opportunity to experience a day of your dreams. You could spend an entire day at your favorite place, with your favorite people, doing your favorite activities and eating your favorite food – paradise. The only catch would be that for 1-millisecond you would experience grief. Would you accept the invitation?
Most everyone would recognize that a split second is entirely insignificant to a twenty-four day. And that is entirely the point that God wants us to understand. On God’s time table for your life, you are in the middle of your 1-millisecond. In comparison to all of eternity, the 70, 80 or even 90-some years that we live is just a moment, a vapor.
Psalm 144:4 “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
James 4:14 “you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Imagine a single bird was tasked with taking every grain of sand on the east coast of N/S America continents and relocating it the long way around the globe to the west coast. They pick up the grain of sand and fly across the Atlantic Ocean, across the UK, Russia and Japan and then across the Pacific Ocean to land on the west coast. The time it took to do that with a single grain is but your first breath in eternity.
Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
You see, living in light of eternity provides perspective for living on earth. The journey of faith must endure famine and without the hope of heaven grief has the power to paralyze us.
As we seek to understand God’s perspective on grief we must realize the Bible is not arranged topically. In other words, it is not like a dictionary or encyclopedia where you can look up all the information there is on that topic. The Bible is the story of God revealing Himself to individuals and through their experiences we discover God’s grand purpose and narrative in all of History. We discover a God who is greater than anyone and anything we could ever imagine, and we discover a God who is good, loving, fair and just.
Redeeming Family: Dealing with loss (Ruth 1:1-5/14)
So, today we look at the story of God from the Book of Ruth to understand how to deal with loss and grow appropriately in our grief. In this passage we can see 3 realities to embrace in time of famine.
God is in control
The book of Ruth opens with the ominous setting during the days when the Judges ruled (1200-1000 BC). As mentioned, Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” shows us a time of national instability for over a century.
The book zooms into the life of this single family with Elimelech & Naomi and their two children Mahlon and Chilion. They were from a little, insignificant town of Bethlehem and yet traveled to Moab in search of food. The two boys married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.
The name meanings are important and revealing for what the author wants to communicate.
– Elimelech: My God is King
– Naomi: Pleasant or lovely
– Mahlon: sick or invalid
– Chilion (kil-y-on): weak and puny, frail mortality
– Orpah: neck (perhaps stiff-necked or perhaps like a gazelle; but with her actions we see the former)
– Ruth: friendship or refreshment
– Moab: what/who’s your daddy? (name sounded like (me), what or (mi), who, plus (ab), father)
Moab was son of incestuous union between Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). Also, Lot’s other daughter did the same and one of the children was Ammon, whom the Ammonites fought constantly with Israel. The Israelite Law stated that “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord forever” (Deuteronomy 23:3) because of their hostility with Israel.
– Bethlehem: house of bread, grain
During a time of famine, Elimelech (God is King) led his family away from Bethlehem (bread) to ungodly Moab. He had two children: Mahlon (sick) and Chilion (puny), who married Orpah (stiff-necked) and Ruth (refreshing friendship).
Elimelech dies and so do the male children. Naomi is left with her daughter-inlaws and their hope was fleeting. In that culture, a woman’s worth and security depended on family. Wage work essentially did not exist for a woman, and she couldn’t cultivate land without male relatives even if she were allowed to inherit it. (Naomi held the family land at Bethlehem—4:3—but it was useless to her.) So, her only hope of livelihood was managing the household and raising the children of a husband. She needed sons, not daughters, because grown sons would support her when her husband died. Also, bearing sons was a blessing to continue family generations, whereas barrenness was viewed with shame or humility. Therefore, Naomi was considered both vulnerable and worthless as a childless widow and too old to remarry; hopeless.
At some point, we all stand at this intersection trying to discern God’s purpose in suffering. We can understand God’s goodness during times of feasting but we have difficulty when there is famine. So, where is God and how is He in control? Here are 2 important recognitions:
ð God’s sovereign control starts and ends on a throne. God is infinitely greater and wiser than humanity will ever comprehend. God is king of all.
- NASA just announced 9/12/2013 that Voyager 1, which has been traveling for 36years, exited our solar system and reached “interstellar space”, about 12-billion miles away from our sun (or 121x distance between earth & sun). They expect to continue receiving data through 2025 as it travels 325-million miles each year.
- We must remember that the depths of God’s purposes and plans are unending.
ð God’s control is greater than your choices. As Elimelech lacked trust in his name (God is king) and moved his family away to Moab, there were consequences of enduring famine and unbelieving family. Yet, God refreshed the circumstances with the faithful friend Ruth.
- When famine, suffering, loss and grief enter your life, you realize how little control you have over life and begin to question if anyone has control. Yet, God is faithful and His purposes cannot fail.
- –>When our sin stumbled out of control, God sent His Son. Jesus did not live an isolated or insulated journey. His life was not germ-free or pain-free. He walked in our shoes, suffered in our place and died a cruel death that we deserve. God’s control put Jesus on the cross and it also raised Him from the grave.
Grief is common.
In ten years time, Naomi lost her husband, two children and was left with no grandchildren. She became a lonely widow struggling to have her physical needs met and not to mention her emotional wellbeing. She lifted up her voice, wept and seemed to want nothing more than just to curl up and die alone as she sent her daughter in-laws away (1:8-9); she did this not once but twice (1:10-14). Later Naomi asks for people to stop calling her Naomi (pleasant, lovely) and instead call her Mara (bitter) (1:20).
Sadness and death do not discriminate. Grief is a common experience we all face. If we are not currently grieving then we either know someone who is or we will ourselves in the future.
Though grief is a common experience, it is not a one-size fits all expression.
– Naomi weeps emotionally, pushes people away and gets bitter at people and even God
– Orpah weeps, seems fairly silent and seeks shelter in past relationships
– Ruth weeps, talks a lot and seeks solace in loyal friendship.
We all express grief differently. Grief can be like a thunderstorm taking a surge of electricity from an entire house; all the power is vanquished in a flash. At first is appears as a flash, then a ripple and then wave after wave of thunder breaks through that it not only rips through the sky but you can feel it in your chest.
One thing that can be liberating is to understand that grief is not something to overcome. Persons cannot simply move on or get over grief. It is important to note that grief is not a sin. Bitterness is sinful but grieving is supportive.
Jesus wept (John 11:35). One of the shortest verses but most significant on the topic of emotions. What does it say about the heart of God that He feels our hurts, gets sad and weeps?
ð Care with tears. We weep because life matters and love is real. God does not call us to fake smiles when we’re not happy. Instead, God calls us to
- Christians can help with their presence, weeping together (Romans 12:15)
ð Care for the physical. It can be easy to overlook eating, sleeping, etc. The physical is spiritual.
- Christians can help by ministering in cooking meals, household chores, etc.
ð Care for your hope. Ultimately, your hope cannot be in a loved one (like Naomi’s was). Nor can it be in food or anything else but only in the Lord. We must resist false or temporary hopes and seek the Lord. We must not give up spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study and time with God’s people. These resources will be a sustaining comfort and hope for you in time of grief.
- Christians pray for and pursue one another in spiritual hope
1Thessalonians 4:13-14 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
Grace is coming.
Naomi was ignorant of what God wanted to do in and through her life. She couldn’t see through eyes of faith. In essence told her daughters, I have nothing to give and no hope to offer, I am empty (1:11-13). At Naomi’s lowest point, what she wanted was escape but what she needed was embrace. And that is exactly what Ruth gave.
There was nothing that Naomi could do to earn Ruth’s love but simply receive it unconditionally. Likewise, God steps into our situation where we have nothing to give, no hope to offer and completely empty. At our lowest point as sinners the best we can hope to receive is escape. Yet, God gives us something greater for which we can hope – Himself. He embraces us with unfathomable love and grace.
“God knows this world is so terribly broken and we are so desperately needy that the only thing that will help us is him. So he doesn’t just administer our story from a distance; he literally comes to us and lives inside us. He does this so that we will have the grace we need to face what he will call us to face, to do what he has called us to do, and to continue to the end. You see, the promise of forever doesn’t just mean that we’ll live in his presence then, but it means that we are gifted with his presence now.
Think about the radical encouragement of this truth. I may love you and I may want to assist you in your time of need, but I am always operating from the outside. In your moments of weakness, I cannot get inside of you and give you the strength you need to press on. Yet this is exactly what God does for us. He is with us, providing for our needs, and he is in us with strengthening and transforming grace.”
Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”
Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
2 Corinthians 1:3 God is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort”.
Matthew 5:4 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”
 Remember we view Bethlehem’s importance for being the place of our Savior’s birth, but before this it was quite rural & remotely insignificant.
 Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It. Paul Tripp. p.118.