Why Naomi’s Song?

A Sweet & Bitter Providence by John Piper: great book about Ruth

Loss hurts. In these past few months, I have cringed as friend after friend suffered loss. Three couples have miscarried. Several church friends and my neighbor have suddenly lost a parent. Cancer killed a 26-year-old cousin of my husband. Smaller losses hurt too: pets, jobs, friends.

As I have wept with those who weep, my thoughts have turned again and again to Naomi from the Bible book of Ruth. Naomi’s reaction to her loss is so raw and real. “Call me Bitter,” she says essentially in Ruth 1:20. Now that’s honesty!

(I wonder how it would go over at church if I started introducing myself according to how I feel that morning? “Hi! Call me Exhausted.” “Welcome to church! We struggled to get here this morning. I’m Ticked-Off-At-My-Kids.” Yeah, maybe not.)

But these two things I admire. First, that Naomi has candidly assessed how her circumstances have made her feel. Second, that she does not allow her ugly feelings to keep her from returning to God’s place and God’s people.

Loss hurts, and it is right to feel the pain of it. Grief is not an opposite to thankfulness and gratefulness; it is an extension of it. Because we feel thankful and grateful for the good things that God has given us, we feel the corresponding grief when those good things are taken away. But it’s so easy to allow that proper grief to descend into unhealthy bitterness.

Naomi views her loss as coming from God’s own hand. And she is right. God is sovereign. Therefore, God himself ordained when her husband would die and that, even after 10 years of marriage, both her sons would remain childless and die.

But Naomi has neglected to remember some things about her God. She forgets that God originally forged our planet without death. Death entered our world through sin. Now, although death remains a part of our broken world, Naomi’s own God is in the very business of redemption from the curse of sin.

Naomi needs to be reminded of the complete truth about her God: His sovereignty and His salvation. His judgement and His grace. She won’t get those reminders if she stays in Moab.

Hearing that “the Lord had visited his people and given them food” (Ruth 1:6, ESV) must have sparked her tiny, shrunken hope. Despite feeling empty, despite knowing she would face questions and gossip, she put one foot in front of the other and walked backed to Bethlehem.

It is back in Bethlehem, that Naomi begins to glimpse God’s redemption: a barley harvest, a Kinsman-redeemer, the marriage of her clingy daughter-in-law, and then an heir! Ruth 4:14 says, “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.‘”

Because this story is told from the benefit of generations of hindsight, it’s easy to see God’s redemption. For those with a fresh loss, it’s rarely that clear. Loss hurts.

Hurting friends, my prayer for you is this: May loss lead you to God’s place and God’s people. May the truth of God’s complete character comfort you. In time, may this loss eventually give you a fresh glimpse of God’s salvation and redemption.

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