In February I attended a 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 between each child’s idea of love was that they were all action-oriented ideas. They weren’t trying to be philosophical, yet their ideas intuitively demonstrated a compelling truth – when you genuinely love someone, it compels your action outward. Genuine love is demonstrated.
God’s ‘Hesed’ Way Of Love
There are different ways of loving someone – 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 [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 – a vow (or covenant) that is impossible to fail us, even when we fail Him. It promises to hold onto us, no matter who we are or what we are going through.
One of the reasons that God’s love shines out so powerfully from the story of Ruth is because of it’s contrast against the dark, ugly storyline of despair that it is set within. Within the first five verses we are introduced to famine, the deaths of three men, and watch an aging women and her two, widowed daughters-in-law left with no money, resources, home, and seemingly no hope. While Naomi never once doubts the existence of God, she does doubt His goodness and gives into bitterness. Have you ever felt this way? Bitter at God? Confused by His silence? Feeling ‘left’ by God, is honest.
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 Ruth’s godly response? Was it that she picked herself up by the bootstraps and tried harder? No, she responded with sacrificial love because she had been genuinely touched by the hesed love of God that she knew was impossible to fail her, no matter who she was or what she was going through. When you experience true love, it compels our actions outward.
God’s hesed love transforms usThere is normalcy to feeling the absence of God sometimes when we suffer. In some moments His presence arrives as a warm, tangible calm in the dark night of the soul, and sometimes we may feel left alone in suffering’s coldness, wounded and forgotten. During these times it can be helpful to remember that godly biblical characters have also felt the sting of feeling forgotten. Job looked diligently for God in every direction and all that he could see was that God was absent (Job 23). King David called out to God in the middle of his distress (Psalm 22) only to notice that God doesn’t seem to notice him back. The repeatedly shipwrecked, imprisoned, and beaten down Paul asked for relief from an enduring ‘thorn’ which was seen and left by the God he suffered for (1 Corinthians 12).
In times of suffering we can…
Lean into God’s Word. When we interact with Scripture, we interact with Christ Himself who is the Word (John 1:1) and is living and active to meet us there.
Recognize the presence of One who we already have inside. At the end of the story of Ruth we see Boaz 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, death and despair at the start of this story turn into new crops, new life, and restored hope.
So what does this have to do with us? 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. He spoke a vow over us that became sealed into Forever, that He would have and hold us, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in our joys, in our mistakes, and in our despair. When we’re stuck in waves of despair and shame, Jesus still promises to have and hold us. When we are faithless, He has vowed to be faithful. When we feel crushed under suffering that is not our fault and we can’t seem to find Him in the darkness, His hesed love promises to find and hold onto us. Jesus is the only one with the resources to rescue us from our current calamity and transform the broken pieces of our lives into new life that testifies to His beauty and goodness.
In this life we will be given more than we can handle, so that we can see – and so that others can see – that His massive, personal, unfailing promised love is able 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 entitled Ruth – Redeeming The Darkness on Amazon today!