Culture

Looking Abroad to Find Redemption for the Bitterness in American Life

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Our world today might be a lot like Israel in the period of the Judges.

Like God’s people in those days, we are recognizing that much has been lost, much has gone wrong. At times, it all feels quite hopeless and discouraging.

Yet, in the midst of the mess long ago, God called out a faithful foreign woman who offered herself—unpretentiously, generously, and compassionately—for the sake of the other.

Could we, the church today, learn to live like Ruth, even as we face our own experiences of loss, discouragement, violence and unjust realities?

The Bitterness of American Reality

The circumstances of today cause me to sense problems everywhere and leave me asking all kinds of questions concerning the vehemence, selfishness, and cruelty around us.

For example:

  • What happened to politicians with integrity and political conversations that focused on issues rather than putdowns and finger pointing?
  • Why is there so little talk about human rights’ violations, world hunger and poverty, global warming, extending our borders (vs. walling them in), and the devastation and drawbacks to war and military spending?
  • Might we ever focus on how one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world can respond with compassion and generosity—even sacrifice instead of… (you can fill in the blanks)
  • What values, morals, dignity, and respect have gone missing in the augmentation of fear of the other?

How can even so-called Christian voices so often seem more interested in advocating to trump the other rather than asserting loudly the call to love our neighbors of all shapes and sizes?

It seems that American politics and bad behaviors in the public have brought us face to face with the reality of our human condition. How can we care for the suffering across the ocean if we can’t even care for, love and respect the people next door?

We are all to blame.

Every day we are confronted with the burden of our faults and failings — the struggle, suffering, and fatigue related to being part of a finite, fallible, defective world is not only ‘out there’ but ‘in here’. When we discover this, it can lead to disillusionment, anger, and bitterness.

The Bitterness of Naomi’s Reality

Just as it did for Naomi-turned-Mara (Naomi meaning “pleasant” and Mara meaning “bitter”) in the book of Ruth (1:20), we find that we are also disillusioned. We are forced to confront the illusions that we have built our lives, churches, and society on.

We are forced to admit that there may be errors in our perceptions about both our own lives and about our God. God is not simply about making us more comfortable and happy, nor is He about satisfying our perceived needs and desires. In fact God might allow us to be very uncomfortable and ill-at-ease.

But perhaps that is the point. Because God is about forming a people and transforming lives to be more like His Son. He’s not about keeping us comfortable and at ease. Therefore we have a choice: to be bitter and disillusioned when things are a mess (and thereby focus on protecting and profiting ourselves), or to listen for, trust in, and respond to the Triune One.

In the book of Ruth, Naomi seems to be stuck in her bitterness. She cannot see beyond her loss; she is desperate and hopeless. In her mind, everything is forever lost: her name, family, and portion. Perhaps she needs a redemption that she can’t even imagine possible. Perhaps our world does too? Perhaps, I do too.

Perhaps God allows a sense of loss and disillusionment to help us realize that what we have often put our trust and hope in can never sustain us or our neighbors. For those in Naomi’s day, redemption required a redeemer who would buy back her inheritance and make her part of the family again. The redeemer could restore and renew her life not simply to what was, but to what it ought to be.

Are we not in a similar place today? Does not this nation — do not our communities, our neighbors — need someone to buy back our inheritance and make us part of the family again? Can we dare to dream that the world can be restored and renewed not simply to what was but to what ought to be?

Can we dare to reimagine the world restored & renewed not simply to what was but to what… Click To Tweet

The Redemption of Ruth’s Reality … and Maybe Ours

Ruth, in contrast to Naomi, does not let circumstances define her or her actions. She acts without caring what the consequences might be. She trusts and does what she can. She goes to glean the field, and in doing so, takes a step of faith. For Ruth, the tragedy of her circumstances became an invitation to seek refuge beyond what she could produce or conjure up. And it’s not just about her — as she acts in trust, she invites Naomi also to seek a safe place in the shelter of the One who made all things.

Thus, the One who made all things (unlike the counterfeit one who blesses our plans and makes us feel good) is the God we meet through Ruth. Ruth, a foreign woman “of noble character” and strength (3:11,15), does not enter in to relationship with God with any preconceived notions of deserving and privilege. Rather, she makes a conscientious commitment in her famous pledge: “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (1:16-17).  I wish I could do this as well and as simply as Ruth does.

I wonder what it would look like for us, the church in North America, to humble ourselves like Ruth. As Ruth steps out in faith and humility, she (and through her, Naomi) discovers the God who is already ahead of us, the One who can and does redeem. This God, it seems, is not what we might expect.

He is:

  • Our kinsmen not our superior
  • Our humble Redeemer not a ‘big wig’ with ‘big ideas’
  • One who bears our burdens as opposed to seeking to conquer, exclude, or dismiss the other

Boaz is the person identified as the kinsmen redeemer who embodies God’s amazing grace, love and kindness–which transforms and makes right and new.
Boaz becomes a Christ-figure as Jesus becomes the ultimate suffering kinsmen Redeemer.

To whom might God be calling you, your community to be akin? Who are the heartbroken, empty-handed, quietly lying at your feet? What a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural way to change the world—to change us? One without power, privilege, rank or rhetoric!

But it raises another set of questions for me:

  • Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just take control and make things right?
  • Wouldn’t it be better if we—the good guys who know how it ought to be—could just get to work, supervising elections and multi-nationals, addressing justice issues and environmental concerns, showing mercy and proclaiming justice?
  • Wouldn’t it be better for us to disarm and defeat all that is evil and wrong in our world rather than suffer and/or allow others to suffer?

I don’t always get God’s ways. I often can’t get my head around God’s plans and purposes especially when I see and experience the trauma and tragedy on earth, not as it is in heaven.

But in my better moments this leads me to realize how much I need a kinsmen redeemer who suffers with me, with us. And I also realize how I need to be more like Ruth, modeling humility and trust alongside those in need — doing what I can by gleaning the ‘leftovers’ (Ruth 2) and lying at the feet of Jesus (Ruth 3).

I wonder what God might birth, how the Spirit might redeem and restore all things if I and others declared, ‘you are my people’ to our neighbors and ‘You are our God’ to the one true kinsmen Redeemer, Jesus, more faithfully.

Through her character and actions (and the power of God at work within her), Ruth gave birth to Obed, ‘one who serves.’ Might the church today bear such well-named fruit?

I wonder how, dear church, we can stand with (and not simply for) others that they might truly live—and know that their Redeemer lives with them?

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