In my last post, I focused on how to grow resilience in the midst of ambiguous loss by attaching our loss to a redemptive narrative. Today, I was reminded that great stories of redemption do more than just give us hope—they also provide heroes who show us how to live well in the midst of loss and adversity.
Within the Bible’s grand story of redemption there are countless smaller stories, including the one I read this morning. The book of Ruth (only 3 pages in my Bible) is unsurpassed in brevity, beauty, and its dramatic portrayal of redemption. It not only offers a story that gives us hope, it also introduces us to characters who inspire me to live and act virtuously.
The Hebrew word redemption occurs 23 times in the book of Esther. Many elements of the story resemble our own contemporary context. The story is situated within a dark season of national disunity and moral and religious degeneracy. Israel possessed xenophobic and hostile attitudes toward aliens—particularly the neighboring country of Moab with whom they had a long history of conflict.
The desperation brought about by a natural disaster (in this case a famine) drives a central character in this story, Naomi, out of Israel to the neighboring country of Moab. For over ten years she and her husband live with the ambiguous loss of being displaced from their people. Her two sons eventually marry Moabite women, but a series of losses soon follow. Her husband dies, then her sons die. Left in a state financial ruin, she releases her sons’ wives to return to their mothers and remarry, leaving her alone and seemingly without hope.
What I find most intriguing about this short story is the beautifully subtle way the author contrasts the normal and justifiable human response to crisis and tragic loss with the heroic response of Naomi and Boaz.
In Ruth, the normal way of responding to the crisis is not portrayed as grossly evil or shameful. For example, when Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law, Orpha and Ruth, to return to their homes and remarry, they both say, “No,” and offer to go with Naomi back to Israel. Nevertheless, Naomi insists and Orpha, after hugging, crying, and kissing her mother-in-law, concedes and says goodbye.
Ruth also cries, kisses, and hugs, but when Naomi stops hugging, Ruth won’t let go. She insists on staying with Naomi.
A similar contrast occurs in relation to Boaz and the unnamed relative who chooses not to jeopardize his own financial situation by doing what Boaz is willing to do to, pay the redemption price to rescue Naomi.
Orpha and the unnamed kinsman embody my natural response to crisis, loss, and uncertainty. I am naturally oriented to focus on and take care of myself. In contrast, Ruth and Boaz embody the sacrificial, unconditional, selfless nature of God-like love (compare 2:12 and 3:9). Their behavior in crisis and loss touches something deep inside of me that makes me want to love them—that makes me want to love like God loves.
Photography by Bonnie Sanders