When you look at a diamond, what do you see? A dazzling stone, right? You see a glittering, sparkling stone that has been cleaned, cut, and carefully placed in setting specifically designed to reflect its natural beauty.
But did you know that every diamond starts out as an ugly, messy, dirty piece of coal? You probably wouldn’t go into a jewelry store and ask to see the ugliest piece of coal in the store. When jewelry shopping, we don’t concern ourselves with the diamond’s formation process – we only value the end product. Yet, that piece of coal has undergone a long and intense process having been hidden away under the earth’s surface for hundreds of years. That piece of coal has endured extreme heat and extreme pressure that has transformed it into a priceless gemstone.
I borrowed that illustration from my oldest sis Heather, who writes a blog for minister’s wives called the daily kick. She writes: “Without God using a process to form our character we will never posses the end-product!”
Yet, we commonly make one of two mistakes:
- We only focus on the end-product and forget that God often uses our suffering as a means to bring out His good plan for our lives OR
- We only focus on the process and become overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in life and forget that suffering has meaning.
This is the key: our life circumstances are a part of the process God uses to forge our character into a glittering mirror of His character (the end-product). Everything we experience ultimately God uses for our eternal benefit. That means each quiet hurt, every monumental loss, every unfulfilled dream, are not considered meaningless for those who know the Lord (Rom. 8).
It helps to have a big picture mentality when facing difficult circumstances. And one thing we’ll discover as we study the book of Ruth is that God’s providence presumes the existence of a plan. God doesn’t just rule over His creation, he is actively guiding it toward a predetermined end – a good end.
Yesterday in class we began the first scene of Ruth (Ruth 1: 1-5). And we discovered that each of the six scenes is constructed in a mini-chiasm. This type of device is like a mirror, wherein the layers of the passage reflect, contrast, or mirror each other until you get to the middle layer. And this middle layer is the most important layer. And in Scene 1, we see that the chiasm meets in verse 3 where Naomi is widowed. By positioning this terrible circumstance as the centerpiece of the text, the author is begging the reader to view Naomi’s circumstances in light of God’s providence.
And although God is not a central character in the book of Ruth, He is constantly at work behind the scenes of these people’s lives. Here are some ways we noted God’s providence at play in Scene 1:
God’s providence guides the timing & setting of the book of Ruth (Ruth 1:1).
- The author provides us with subtle language to demonstrate that what appears as coincidence is not coincidence at all! (“And it came to pass”)
- The author tells us the story of Ruth occurred “during the time of the judges” – a time of spiritual darkness for the entire nation of Israel. But in Ruth, we have a marked contrast between the integrity shown in lives the characters of Ruth and the infidelity demonstrated in the rest of the nation.
God’s providence guides the circumstances of the story of Ruth (1:1, 3, 4).
- Naomi’s family temporarily sojourns to Moab because Bethlehem (the ‘house of bread’) is no longer plentiful.
- Naomi’s husband dies rendering her a widow without means for provision or protection.
- Naomi’s two sons die without producing an heir to the family name and lands, rendering Naomi homeless and without a place in the Promised Land.
And so, Scene 1 of Ruth ends on a depressing note, but you and I know the ending to this story. Our dismal circumstances cannot outdo a magnificent God! In fact, God is often at work behind our circumstances. Now, I’m not ready to say God caused the death of all the male members of Elimelech’s household. But I will say that evil and death cannot stay God’s hand in our lives. God is not the author of evil. He is not the author of trouble – the life of Job proves that. However, His hand often moves our circumstances for our good and His glory. History is not just a collection of events, but a divinely guided timetable through which God is working to bring about the total and complete restoration of His Kingdom – His throne. And we know this is definitely the endgame in the book of Ruth.
But we also know that God is not just interested in the ‘end product’ of our lives. God is interested in the process as well. So, we see that Naomi’s suffering was not meaningless. And if you have a relationship with the Providential God, your suffering is not without meaning either.
What meaning could Naomi’s suffering have? What kind of meaning can you find in your own suffering? I think Paul gives us a clue in Romans 8.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This process of being conformed to the ‘likeness’ of the Son is difficult and often painful (vs. 28). But it is most often in the most ugly of circumstances that that Christ’s image in us is showcased the most beautifully. A proper view of suffering must understand how painful circumstances are being used for eternal benefit. Yet, on this side of eternity the value of such sufferings are hidden by ugly circumstances, death, and pain. But on the flip side, when Christ comes again to complete our restoration from sin, we will see nothing but beauty – Christ’s beauty as we will finally look like him! (1 John 3).