Devotion: Ruth 1:19-22Bitterness is unease with our circumstances left to fester. What results is disdain for other people, for the self and, most importantly, for God. Today that last one often takes the form of denying the existence of God as if one's declaration regarding God actually had an effect on His reality. Even if we do not deny God's existence or power or goodness or love explicitly, we do so practically by neglecting faith and faith's outward expression of worship. This is where the 'spiritual but not religious' crowd meets the 'I love Jesus, but hate the Church' crowd. Neither of these will actually help us deal with the pit of bitterness in our souls. Sure, we can hide behind lofty sounding words or strike back with sharp sarcasm or even numb ourselves with work or sinful pleasures, but in the end God will not be denied for He is the great I AM. So, if you cannot go around God, what is left? I think that is where our passage comes in this week with the continuing struggle of Naomi.
"So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, 'Is this Naomi?' She said to them, 'Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?'Naomi cannot see beyond her present circumstance. The town of Bethlehem is stirred up because this long lost relative has come home. While the text does not supply the emotion of those in Bethlehem it is hard for me to understand the women's question as anything but joy. They are happy that Naomi has returned to them. If there is one thing bitterness cannot abide it is joy. A surefire test for bitterness is how we interact with the joy of others. Indeed, as Christians we are called to weep with those who weep, but we are equally called to rejoice with those who rejoice. The women of Bethlehem, I wager, are rejoicing that Naomi, long gone and perhaps presumed dead, has finally returned to them. Naomi, lost in her bitterness can only curse their joy and curse God at the same time.
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. " -Ruth 1:19-22 ESV
Cursing God is the real danger of bitterness. It is not that the Almighty will be thwarted in His purpose or even in His love and grace. Rather, it is the bitterness that fossilizes the heart and strangles any joy we may feel. Naomi has that kind of bitterness. She wants to be called 'Mara' (meaning bitter) not as a lament for the tragedy she has borne. We may understand her renaming herself if she is merely calling the women of Bethlehem to weep with her. Rather, she has taken her new name as a testimony against the Lord. She blames God for what happened to her. She blames God for her husband and sons dying. She blames God for having to leave her adopted homeland and return to Bethlehem as a beggar who can only hope for redemption. She blames God for her present circumstance. Yet, she cannot take the modernist route of denying God's existence. She knows too well the promises of God and how God has kept His promises. She cannot deny God, so instead she despises God.
In Naomi's despising of God we learn the most important thing about God. Despite our emotional reaction to God, if He has determined to love us, to save us, to redeem us, God will not abandon us. We can rage against the Almighty, we can curse His name, we can even blame God for everything rotten in our lives--not a single one of these things will turn God away from us. Naomi does not have God's point-of-view and neither do any of us. It takes the intervention of God to turn our most horrific circumstances (and Naomi's circumstance is horrific) into anything good. This is God's work and it is marvelous in our eyes. We will follow Mara as God transforms her back into Naomi throughout the next three chapters. Yet let us take away a few things:
- Bitterness directed outwardly or inwardly is poison to the soul.
- Denying or cursing God does not change His power or His love toward us.
- The test of bitterness is if we can rejoice in each other's joy.
- It takes God to intervene in our lives to save us from our bitterness.
News for You:
- Sign up now for our Fall small groups. We are studying "Your Church Experiencing God Together." You can find dates and locations at the Welcome Center at CPC or just call and we will help you out.
- Registration is full for Women's Paint & Pie event on Saturday, September 30 at 6:30 p.m. Thanks to all who signed up! Wow, what an overwhelming turnout!
- We are raising funds to help build the Okanogan Community Homeless Shelter. You can find out more at their website, okshelter.org!
- Are you interested in getting to know CPC better? Try the New Membership Class on October 1st following the Fellowship Hour. Lunch will be provided if you let us know you are coming.
- Our next community outreach event will be our annual Trunk-or-Treat. Decorate the trunk of your rig and help provide a fun, festive and safe experience for parents and kids on October 31. More details to come!