Much has changed in my reading of Ruth over the past 16 years. I think it’s more accurate though to say that my understanding has deepened. When I was reading Ruth during the months of dating Steve, I was most interested in how she asked Boaz to marry her, how their path to marriage played out. With the help of a little book called A Sweet & Bitter Providence by John Piper,John Piper, A Sweet & Bitter Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2010), 86. I’m learning just how providential it was that my friend Mary Morken held up Ruth as a model for getting married in difficult circumstances. But it’s a model for much more.
Piper says, “what … Ruth does for us is give us a glimpse into the hidden work of God during the worst of times.” The more I read and study Ruth, the more convinced I am that for any Christian woman hoping to marry in undesirable, difficult circumstances, Ruth is pure gift to us in our day. Who among us doesn’t live in a Genesis 3, post-fall, world? We all face, or have faced, undesirable, difficult circumstances on our way to marriage. Ruth and Boaz’s love story is a model of how to glorify God in the midst of difficulty in the process of getting to marriage.
The question I asked Mary, “What can we do about it?” is similar to the one I asked her husband, the professor, in class one day. He’d been talking about all the ways our country was drifting from its founding purpose and how bad things were getting politically, when I raised my hand and asked with great concern, “What’s the solution?” He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Get married, make babies, and do government. That’s how we win!” Huh? I was dumbfounded. And offended.
Doesn’t he know that that’s what I wish I were doing? Here I was pursuing a master’s degree so I could go back to Washington and work to defend families. I was the answer to the problem, not them. I always assumed by doing government, I was fighting for the family. But he was saying that the very act of forming families was essential to winning.
“Candice,” he said, almost laughing, “do the math. The people who form families, who raise children and send them into the next generation, are the ones who will influence where our government and culture go in the future.”
What he said was politically accurate: The side with the most voters wins. But what he said also made sense spiritually and personally. It was a challenge to my whole way of thinking. I knew there was an element of pragmatism in his conclusion, but there was also something much deeper. This was a class about biblical principles of government, and the professor was a devout believer. Dr. Morken was hinting at what he believed about God’s design, God’s will. And that design was marriage. If it was still God’s will for most people, maybe it was God’s will for me.
If what he said was true, then I had reason to hope for, and even work for, marriage. Once that idea took hold, I felt free to hope for marriage — my marriage — for the first time in years. For the first time in my adult life, I believed it could — and should — happen. In A Sweet & Bitter Providence, Piper talks about the paralysis of depression and the power of hope. He says,
One of the terrible effects of depression is the inability to move purposefully and hopefully into the future. … One of the reasons we must help each other ‘hope in God’ (Psalm 42:5) is that only hopeful people, hopeful families, and hopeful churches plan and strategize. …Strategies of righteousness are the overflow of hope.
Dr. Morken’s conviction about the God-designed purpose and goodness of marriage gave me hope. And once hope took root, I was receptive to Mary’s encouragement and watchful for opportunities to be strategic in my friendship with Steve. Buying a book to have conversation with Steve, inviting the Morkens to speak at the retreat we planned, initiating a student publication, hosting the dinner party — all of these actions were part of being intentional. I knew that Steve was a godly man and that our friendship would be a strong foundation for marriage. But even more, I was convinced that marriage as God designed it was still His plan for most believers (Jesus said as much in Matthew 19) for our good (two are better than one) and for His glory (Ephesians 5). When a believing man and woman come together to form a new family, they are obeying God’s will, but even more they are referring to Christ and the church. Marriage is about infinitely more than the romance between husband and wife. It is about spreading the Gospel.
That’s why, in that critical moment when I asked Steve to define our relationship, I was able to say, “I want to get married, and I hope it’s to you. But if it’s not, then I can’t keep being your buddy. This way of being just friends has to progress or end.” I was persuaded that a God-glorifying marriage was my goal, even if it was to someone other than Steve.
Looking back, though, I realize it wasn’t enough to hope in marriage, even if it was a God-glorifying marriage. My hope needed to be, and still does need to be, in God. Yes, the book of Ruth is the story of glorifying God in the process of getting to marriage. But even more, it’s a guide to glorifying God in the midst of difficulty. Whatever it may be.
Ruth wasn’t pursuing marriage. Her goal was God; faithful pursuit of Him. Her right priorities bore much fruit for God’s glory and the advance of His salvation plan for humanity. (The son she bore became King David’s grandfather who became the direct ancestor of Christ.) But her focal point wasn’t marriage or motherhood, but God. Ask yourself, “What if God never gives me a husband, will I still trust Him? Will I still love Him? No matter the outcome?” And if it’s not marriage you seek, but something else, change out “husband” and insert whatever you’re hoping for. Naomi had nearly given up hope, for reputation, for a place in Jewish society, for a sustainable life. She was hopeless. Are you? Then Ruth has much to say to you. Piper writes,
The book of Ruth reveals the hidden hand of God in the bitter experiences of his people. The point … is not just that God is preparing the way for the coming of the King of Glory, but that he is doing it in such a way that all of us should learn that the worst of times are not wasted. They are not wasted globally, historically, or personally [emphasis added].
This book, one of the shorter books in the Bible, contains a lengthy, detailed story of two people getting married. And yet that is not the primary point of the story. As with every story, every passage, every book in the Bible, the main point that everything points to is Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. Piper says of Ruth’s application to our day,
…the message of Ruth is unwaveringly true. It’s a rock to stand on when the terrain of ideas falls like quicksand. It’s an anchor to hold us when tides are ripping. …the best thing about the Scriptures is that they give hope, because they point to Jesus Christ. They were “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The message of Ruth is filled with God-inspired hope.
Ruth gives me great hope. It gave me hope back when I was single and hoping to date Steve, but even more, it gives me hope in my current difficulty, as well as encouragement for what may come. It’s tempting to look only as far as the next thing I’m hoping for. But we must set our sights further out and higher up. Piper says,
At one level, the message of the book of Ruth is that the life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but they do get there. The life of the godly is not an Interstate through Nebraska but a state road through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. There are rockslides and precipices and dark mists and bears and slippery curves and hairpin turns that make you go backward in order to go forward. But all along this hazardous, twisted road that doesn’t let you see very far ahead, there are frequent signs that say, “The best is yet to come.”
Taken as a whole, the story of Ruth is one of those signs. It was written to give us encouragement and hope that all the perplexing turns in our lives are going somewhere good. They do not lead off a cliff. In all the setbacks of our lives as believers, God is plotting for our joy.
Romans 8:28 is one of those Scriptures that is both profound and mundane. We say it so much and hear it so much — “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” — that we risk losing the meaning. But it is, in this fallen world, a life-line. And the book of Ruth is a picture of that verse lived out.
“If we would trust God implicitly, like Ruth,” Piper says, “we would find that all our complaints against God are unwarranted. Our providences may be bitter, but God is at work for our good — whether we can see it or not.” Whatever twists, turns and roadblocks we encounter, may our trust, by His grace and power at work in us, be always and only in Him. May we say with Paul,
With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:13-18).
Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.