In February I attended a special Valentine’s Day Tea event hosted by my son’s elementary school class. One by one each student stood up at the front and recited what their idea of ‘love’ was. Cleaning up my toys. Cuddling my mommy. Not picking my nose in front of company! More. A common thread that I noticed between each child’s idea of love was that they were all action-oriented ideas. These kids weren’t trying to be philosophical, yet their ideas intuitively demonstrated a compelling truth – when you genuinely love someone, it compels your action outward. True love is demonstrated.
God’s ‘Hesed’ Way Of Love
There are different ways of loving – the way that I love my kids is much different than the way that I love chocolate! In the book of Ruth, there is a specific type of love that resounds from the text called hesed [pronounced ‘heh- sed’] love. It is an enormous love, massive in its scale for us. It is a personal love that is interested in our unique circumstances and feelings. Yet more than anything else, it carries the weight of a promise from God. Hesed love is a vow (or covenant) of love from God to us that is impossible to fail us, even when we are unfaithful and fail Him. It promises to hold onto us, no matter who we are or what we are going through. In fact, it’s important to God that we grasp His ‘hesed’ way of love for us because its mentioned over 250 times in the Old Testament.
Love In Suffering In The Book Of Ruth
One of the reasons that God’s love bursts out so powerfully from the story of Ruth is because of the dark, ugly storyline of despair and suffering from which it shines. In the first five verses of Ruth we see God’s people literally starving from famine, and we learn that one family who tries to escape this famine flees to a nation that is the arch enemy of God’s people. Naomi – the main character endures the deaths of her husband and both sons. She and her daughters-in-law are left with no money, no resources, no home, no family, and seemingly no hope. While Naomi never once doubts the existence of God, she does doubt His goodness and publicly declares her bitterness towards Him. Have you ever felt this way? Bitter at God? Confused by His silence? Felt knocked over by the repeated waves of calamity that keep crashing over you over and over? Feeling ‘left’ by God, is honest.
Choosing Love During Suffering
Notice the two contrasting responses of Naomi’s daughters-in-law when they’re trapped under the same weight of suffering – one woman allows the suffering to drive her away from God, and the other (Ruth) allows the weight of the suffering to drive her towards God. In fact, Ruth not only survives the pressure, she takes on more calamity – the care and provision of her aging mother-in-law who is embittered at God and offers nothing but more burden! So what’s the secret behind how Ruth could respond in godliness and strength when the other woman responded so poorly in the same despair? Sandwiched into this storyline is a profound monologue of Ruth that gives us insight into this answer. In crisis, Ruth takes God as her personal LORD and calls down curses from heaven upon her if she’s not serious. Ruth wasn’t able to serve her mother-in-law so beautifully because she picked herself up by the bootstraps and tried harder, she was able to respond so well because she had put her faith and trust and hope in the hesed love of God – the love that she’d had learned was massive in its scale for us, that cared deeply for her personal feelings and life details, and that was promised to be impossible to fail her, no matter who she was or what she was going through. The enormous love and sacrifice that Ruth demonstrated toward Naomi was a reflection of the enormous, personal, and promised love of God that had genuinely touched and transformed her. Ruth and my son’s elementary school class recited the same truth – that when you experience love, it compels our actions outward.
How God’s Love Can Transform Us Today
There is normalcy to feeling the absence of God sometimes. Perhaps one of the simplest yet most important concepts for us to grasp as believers today is our need to recognize that there is a normalcy sometimes in the Christian life to feeling the silence of God when we suffer. Sometimes His presence presents as a warm calm in the darkness, and sometimes the warmth eludes us and we may feel left in suffering’s coldness, alone and wounded. When this comes, it helps to know that godly biblical characters have also known this confusing experience. In the middle of Job’s suffering, he looked diligently for God in every direction and all that he could see was that God was absent (job 23). We see King David call out to God in the middle of his distress (Psalm 22) to notice that God doesn’t seem to notice him. The repeatedly shipwrecked, imprisoned, and beaten down Paul asks for relief from an enduring ‘thorn’ which was seen and left there by the God he suffered for (1 Corinthians 12).
Lean into God’s Word. When we struggle we must insist that we prioritize His Word because when we interact with Scripture, we interact with Christ Himself who is the Word (John 1:1) and will be living and active to meet us there.
Recognize the presence of One that we already have inside. At the end of the story of Ruth we see the tall, dark, and handsome Boaz taking and marrying Ruth. Can you envision them now standing there? Holding one another’s hands, Boaz speaks a vow over Ruth promising his love toward her for the rest of their lives. Ruth’s circumstances were so incredibly dire and hopeless that the wealthy, powerful Boaz is the only one with the resources to be able to rescue Ruth (and Naomi) from their current circumstances and transform their famines into feasting. The famine and death and despair at the start of this story turn to new crops, new life, and hope.
Do we realize the powerful impact that this marriage has for us today?! At the moment of our salvation when we claimed Him as our Lord, Jesus Christ –the Creator of the Universe – positioned the fullness of His love completely and personally toward us. And as He held us, He spoke a vow over us that into forever, He would have and hold us, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in our joys, in our mistakes, in our despair. When we’re stuck in waves of despair and shame because of our own sin and error, even there Jesus has promised to have and hold us. When we are faithless, He has vowed to be faithful. When we’re feeling crushed under the suffering that has come to us for reasons that are not our fault and we call out to Him and can’t take hold of Him because we can’t see Him and can’t find Him, it is there that He has promised to have, hold, carry, and remake us. Jesus is the only one who has the resources to be able to rescue us from our current calamity and transform the very famines and broken pieces of our lives into new life that testifies to His reality and beauty.
Perhaps the issue is not that we need to ask for more of Jesus’ love and power, but that we need to realize the power, presence, and inability to fail of the One who we already have inside. In this life we will be given more than we can handle, so that we can see – and others can see – that His massive, personal, unfailing promised love is trustworthy and good to bear the impossible for us.
Want to learn more about God’s message to YOU through book of Ruth? You can purchase the full Bible study entitles Ruth – Redeeming The Darkness on Amazon today!