But Ruth replied to Naomi, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. (Ruth 1:16-17, TNIV)
One of the amazing themes of the Old Testament--and my last few posts--has been the provident care of God through all the bad times—through the trials of Joseph whose brothers threw him down a pit to kill him, through this young queen Esther who was placed at the heart of the powerful Persian empire when the Jews were about to be killed, and here through, a foreign, Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, as she cares for her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, and then in response, when Boaz demonstrated care for Ruth beyond what was expected (thus the picture to the right illustrating that last scene in the book of Ruth).
Through human actions, God has provided for his people. And so the book of Ruth brings us to the doctrine of providence. What is it? (By the way, a majority of this next material comes out of my book, Creation and Last Things. You can get more info by checking out the weblink to the right.)
The word providence derives from two Latin roots (pro-videre) that mean to “fore-see,” which also includes the concept of looking ahead so as to “provide.” Webster’s definition is rather concise: “divine guidance or care.” From this foundation, Christian theologians have sorted out three related components to providence:
- Preservation: God sustains all creatures in their distinctive natures and powers
- Cooperation: God not only sustains but actively concurs in these creatures’ action in such an intimate way that every action of these beings can be ultimately explained only by reference to both their and God’s actions
- Government: God fulfills the purpose of all creatures by guiding them
The Drew Seminary theologian, Thomas Oden, who has worked tirelessly and effectively to rejuvenate classical insights, summarizes providence this way: “Three affirmations summarize the Christian teaching of providence: God is preserving the creation in being. God is cooperating to enable creatures to act. God is guiding all creatures, inorganic and organic, animal and rational creation, toward a purposeful end that exceeds the understanding of those being provided for.”
So what is the bottom line? God continues to care for us and for all creation. The amazing insight from Ruth is this: God uses ordinary human beings--you and me--to enact his providence with our friends, our family, our city, our nation, and our world. Amazing, almost blasphemous as this sounds, God's provident care was demonstrated through the faithful actions of Esther, Joseph, and Ruth.
(Can I just say it? Wow!)
The question comes then to you and me: In a nation rocked by the Great Recession, in a time (at least locally) where public schools and universities have been hit with unexpected (and in my view) unwarranted cuts, where hope may be gradually leaching out of those around us, how are we being called to be God's hands and feet to those around us? Will we say yes when we are called to become God's providence? Boaz, Ruth, Joseph, and Esther did and became part of God's solution. The best way to answer that question is through the yes of action.