Life is weird. Sometimes the best made plans become the biggest mistakes. Sometimes you think it’s going right and then it suddenly turns left. And sometimes it all goes to plan. The problem isn’t that life can be unpredictable but how we let it shape us.
Here’s what I mean. Life can do one of two things it can push us closer towards God or it can drive us further away from Him. And when it pushes us away from God we can become blind to his work in our lives. Today we get a glimpse of this in the life of Naomi.
Let’s dig in.
Some of you can probably relate to Naomi. She’s far from home her husband and two sons are dead and her future looks bleak. Even though her daughter in-law has pleaded her loyalty to her, Naomi is having a dark night of the soul.
At this point in the story Naomi and Ruth have made the two day journey back to Bethlehem. Their return has caused a stir, the writer tells us, “And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And they said, ‘Is this Naomi?’.” (Ruth 1:19b) Put yourself in the scene. We know she’s be gone for at least ten years and now all of a sudden she’s returned with no warning.
Imagine the questions stirring around her. “Where’s Elimelech?” Why have you returned?” Where’s the family?” “Why do you have a Moabite with you?” (Remember Moabites are the bad guys.) It has been an endless barrages of questions and gossip.
Naomi answers everyone’s questions with one single responses, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21) It’s important to note here that Naomi means sweet and Mara means bitter. So in other words Naomi is saying, “My life isn’t sweet, I’m no longer sweet. My life has become hard and bitter, and so have I.”
Maybe you can relate to Naomi.
The questions then is, did God make Naomi’s life bitter? And the answer is, no.
Wait, so all that stuff Naomi said about God being against her and making her life bitter isn’t true. Yes.
When we read Naomi’s response here we have to see the world from her eyes. She has become a bitter woman. A hopeless woman. A woman who attributes all of her tragedies to God being against her. She has become tunnel focused on her struggles and that’s all she can see.
Here’s what I mean. It’s undeniable that Naomi’s life is at a low point. Most people in her situation would feel some sort of bitterness towards the Divine. Most people would ask God why this is happening to them. And God is big enough to handle those questions. The problem is when those questions keep us from seeing what God is doing just below the surface.
We have the gift of Romans 8:28. A mind blowing promise that God will use whatever happens in our life for good. The mistake we, like Naomi, make is when we find ourselves in a dark place we focus on struggle, suffering, problem, or pain. We ask, “Why are you doing this God?” instead of, “How are you working in this God?” The question isn’t why is it happening. The question is, how is God working in it?
Notice what Naomi said, “I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.” But wait just hours before hand Ruth pledged her loyalty to Naomi. That’s not empty handed. That’s God working in the middle of a terrible situation. That’s Romans 8:28.
Chapter one closes like this, “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the begging of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:22) Naomi returned home at the beginning of the harvest. That’s one more subtle way the writer of Ruth is saying, “Naomi can’t see it but God is working and is about to do something amazing in her life.”
In other words, what Naomi teaches us that when we focus on our problems and pain often times we can’t see what God is doing in our lives because we are asking the wrong questions.