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Grief is an inescapable consequence of the fall. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). In God’s original creation, there was no grief, because there was no death. But can grief be redeemed? Can it fulfill a good purpose in a Christian’s life?
THE OTHER STORY IN THE BOOK OF RUTH: ENTER NAOMI
The book of Ruth begins and ends with Naomi. Naomi serves as the link to Ruth, whose story is the focus of the rest of the book — redemption and foreshadowing of Christ.
When famine struck Israel, Naomi’s husband Elimelech moved his wife and two sons to neighboring Moab. It takes just the first five verses of the first chapter for Naomi’s husband and both sons to die. Now she was a widow, childless, and far from home.
ONE WOMAN’S COURAGEOUS RESPONSE TO GRIEF
The rest of the chapter shows Naomi’s response to her losses, and gives us some things to think about in relation to grief, how we can experience it well, and how it can do us good.
BE WITH PEOPLE
First, Naomi headed home, where perhaps she felt she would be cared for by friends and family she had left more than ten years prior (Ruth 1:4). As shared in the podcast, a friend can do the most good sometimes just by “being there.” In this case Naomi had to go to where these people were. She was courageously seeking help.
As we learned from Kristin’s story in the podcast, when you are the one bereaved, it can be hard to be amongst people. We as friends need to discern whether grieving friends are isolating themselves and whether they need us to impose our quiet presence, to talk or not to talk, to cry or just to be hugged.
FOCUS ON THE NEEDS OF OTHERS
Second, Naomi set aside her own grief to bless her daughters-in-law for their kindness to her and to her sons, and to encourage them to make choices that were best for their futures. Naomi recognized that her daughters-in-law were also bereaved. Not only were they widows, they had been left childless. She urged them to return to their homes and families. Her monologue about her inability to provide new husbands for them implies that she did hope they would remarry (Ruth 1:8-13). She wasn’t guilting them into perpetual widowhood just to meet her needs.
Her ability to focus on other’s needs in the midst of her grief is exemplary. This is a way that we differ in our grieving experiences. I know that some of the darkest days in my children’s lives were the days when I was so consumed with grief that I could barely see their needs let alone meet them.
I cannot go back and undo those days. But I have asked my children’s forgiveness. My grief became self-focused, to the hurt of others. In this way, it was sin. How could a friend have helped? An accountability relationship would have helped. I didn’t have one. When your life has gone off the rails, you want to conceal that from others. The worse it becomes, the less inclined you are to call for help. In Kristin’s case, it was her husband who called for help. And praise God, help came in the persistent presence of her friend.
EMBRACE GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
Third, Naomi accepts her bereavements as God’s sovereign action in her life, stating “the hand of the LORD has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13) and again, to her people when she arrives home with Ruth, “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty (Ruth 1:20, 21). She and Ruth have arrived at the beginning of barley harvest. God is truly going to bring about harvest after the time of unexplained, bitter discipline Naomi has been through. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
Naomi did not demand to know God’s purpose in her sorrow. But in submitting to God’s sovereignty she was comforted beyond measure as she watched the amazing rest of the story unfold in the romance, marriage, and birth of a child to Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2-4), a child who would be the grandfather of King David.
“So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 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! 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.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:13-17).