Saturday, May 05, 2007

Who ruined her life?

There's a verse in Proverbs that says, "A man's own folly ruins his life, but his heart rages against the Lord." I think it's in chapter 19. That's not today's reading, but it's what came to mind when I read the first chapter of Ruth.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, but here's the deal. Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and her two sons leave the land of Israel and go to the land of Moab. Her husband dies, her sons marry women of Moab, and then they die too -- this last after living in the land of Moab about ten years. Eventually Naomi returns to Israel -- to Bethlehem actually, accompanied by her son's widow Ruth.
19So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?"

20"Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.
Ruth 1:19-20
So I checked the text, and didn't see where it says "The Almighty killed Elimelech" (or anybody else) in this chapter. Why is any of this God's fault?

I did notice this, though: that Naomi, Elimelech, Mahlon, and Kilion all went to live in the land of Moab, where they were not supposed to go. Perhaps they had an excuse for going (there had been a famine in Israel), but to stay there ten years?

And it's for darned sure that Israelite men were not to marry Moabite women. So Naomi's husband and sons all violated very clear, explicit commands from God -- and these were not like the "Do not covet" one that's just about impossible; these were "Live in the land I give you" and "Do not marry foreign women".

So yes, I think Naomi is being a little silly. And by the way, in case your Bible doesn't have convenient footnotes to explain this, "Naomi" means "pleasant" whereas "Mara" means "bitter" -- in case that wasn't evident from the text.

A long time ago, I read Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled, which talks about two kinds of problems people have. One, neurosis, can be characterized as saying "it's my fault" basically all the time. Its twin, character disorder, is just the opposite -- never taking responsibility for problems at all.

I once worked with a guy like this. He never made a mistake; t was always someone else's fault. If he said something that wasn't so, his reasoning wasn't wrong; he was misinformed. This sort of thing. He was actually quite sharp, so his work was pretty good. But the character disorder made him a little harder to work with than he had to be.

Anyway, in this passage I see two errors that I want to try to avoid. First, I don't want to blame God unreasonably. Naomi blames God because her husband and sons are dead. What, were they supposed to live forever? They were disobedient -- I'm going to go out on a limb and say they were all disobedient -- in going to Moab, staying there over ten years, and for the sons, marrying foreign women. They're disobedient the way you and I are disobedient. We're all deserving of immediate destruction, and she's upset because she didn't get killed earlier? May the Lord help me not to blame him when he's more merciful to one person than another!

Second, I don't ever want to forget the blessings I've received. Yes, Naomi lost her husband and her sons. I cannot imagine how hard that was for her. But she does have Ruth, who wants to stick with her. (Why did Naomi try to send her away, anyway? That might be the third significant error that I want to avoid -- don't send people away who want to help me!)

So I pray that for you and for me -- may we take responsibility rather than blaming God; may we not lose sight of our blessings; may we not send away people who God has given to comfort and help us.

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