The Hidden Hand of God

One of the main lessons the book of Ruth teaches is that, despite appearances often to the contrary, God cares for us and is in control of all things.

The theological word that describes God’s care for all things is “providence.” Providence means that the hidden hand of God is always at work in the ordinary affairs of day-to-day life. Ruth is not a theological treatise reflecting on the doctrine of providence in the form of propositions. Instead, as we read about the lives of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz we observe a picture of God’s providence unfolding in an ordinary family, living in an ordinary town during a not-particularly hopeful time in history.

 

Good stories don’t just entertain; they also teach. The biblical book of Ruth is a great story, so while it is captivating on a narrative level, it’s also deeply instructive. One of the main lessons the book of Ruth teaches is that, despite appearances often to the contrary, God cares for us and is in control of all things.

The theological word that describes God’s care for all things is “providence.” Providence means that the hidden hand of God is always at work in the ordinary affairs of day-to-day life. Ruth is not a theological treatise reflecting on the doctrine of providence in the form of propositions. Instead, as we read about the lives of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz we observe a picture of God’s providence unfolding in an ordinary family, living in an ordinary town during a not-particularly hopeful time in history.

If you haven’t read the story of Ruth, I’d encourage you to do so (it’s only 85 verses!) There are at least four ideas there that we learn about the doctrine of providence that we can apply to our own lives.

1. Providence is a difficult thing to read in real-time. Ruth and Naomi could not, at the end of chapter 1, have had any idea how their story would turn out. And actually they never saw the full end of their story during their lifetime. Especially in moments of hardship, it can be difficult and even unwise to try to “read” how providence is unfolding in the circumstances of your life. The book of Ruth tells us that God is always working, but it doesn’t give us an exact blueprint to determine what he is doing.

2. God can handle your hard questions. The book of Ruth reminds us that we can bring our questions and doubts before God, and that he can handle them. After a string of tragic events unfold in her life, Naomi declares, “The almighty has made my life very bitter … The Lord has afflicted me … The almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21). We don’t like this part of the story. We want to rush along to chapter 2 when Boaz arrives and a happy love story starts to emerge. But if we sit with Naomi in her time of darkness for at least a few moments, we begin to experience a strange kind of freedom and assurance. God can handle our grief, our questions, and doubt. Sometimes life is just really hard and we need to say that. The book of Ruth teaches us that we can, and should, bring all of our hurt to God, and that he can handle it when we do.

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