The Book of Ruth: Identity (in) Crisis
Crossroads The Hague, May 2021
• A helpful overview video from The Bible Project.
• Article pointing to the literary structure of Ruth which seems to follow a symmetrical, chiastic pattern:
• Article by a Finnish author, Leif Hongisto. (FYI: Author has an Adventist background.)
• Suggested reading; Here and Now (Hier en Nu) by Henri Nouwen about how God’s Spirit meets us in the ordinary encounters in life.
“Meta” Images of Transitions in the Book of Ruth
• It forms a literary transition in the Old Testament that bridges the chaos of the Judges to the “order” of the kings. It starts with “In the days when the judges ruled…” and ends with the genealogy of King David.
• It contains the internal transitions of “separation to reunion”, “famine to fertility”, “disenfranchised to restored”. The latter is expanded by the image of Boaz as a type of Christ character, redeeming the disenfranchised.
• The book of Ruth is read traditionally by Jews during the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, Pentecost) which marks the wheat harvest. By Jewish tradition, Pentecost also commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites on Mt Sinai. Both of these associations are used in the New Testament as pictures pointing to the transition of the arrival of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit and its fruits. (“… I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts…” Hebrews 8:10)
The book of Ruth deals with people going through real and relatable crises and stressors (e.g., uncertainty in being able to provide for one’s family, death of a spouse, relocation/emigration, fear of assault, uncertain social standing, etc.) In Ruth, many of these stressors come from a change or transition from a known/comfortable position (e.g., married) to an unknown, uncertain position (e.g., widow). Looking at the list of “felt needs” among members of our community, it seems that there are many similarities.
Some examples: “…anxiety, loneliness, grief, finding a life partner, family stresses, divorce, conflicts at work, meaningful work and life purpose, developing resilience in the face of adversity, disappointment and unmet longings” are some of the phrases used when describing the challenges that some within our community are experiencing.
The situations that we see in both cases (in the book of Ruth and in our own community) can be viewed as relating to our sense of identity. Our sense of identity is often challenged when our circumstances are dramatically altered; when the foundations of our life are shaken. The reoccurring themes in Ruth of inheritance and the importance of keeping the family line going don’t seem so far away from our own concerns of family, finances, legacy and purpose: Who am I? What is my purpose? What will be my legacy? If I lost my job, what does that say about me and my ability to provide for my family? If my spouse died (or divorced me), what does that say about me and who I am as a husband or a wife? If I lost a parent (or a child), what does that do to my sense of identity as a child (or a parent)?
And yet in the book of Ruth, the crises (even though severe and existential) are eclipsed by the transcending faithfulness of God; sometimes expressed through providence, sometimes expressed through individuals. After reading the book, we come away with a sense that the ways in which we typically define and measure ourselves (by relationships, by accomplishments, by position/status) are not the things that really matter. The things we really remember about Ruth and Boaz and Naomi are faithfulness, kindness, sacrifice, and an openness to God and to each other. These are their legacy, these are their true identities, these are the things by which they are known so many centuries later. In some ways, they demonstrate a foretaste of the fruit of the Spirit being expressed and lived out (even in the Old Testament, even by a widow, even by a Moabite).
• We typically define our identity by our human relationships, our earthly positions & status, our various achievements, etc. But in the book of Ruth, we see people identified by their “eternal” actions and attitudes (e.g., kindness, obedience, faithfulness, openness) as an outgrowth of their relationship with God. These actions and attitudes expressed during times of crisis and pain reveal the true nature and identity of the individuals.
• We also see that these expressions of faith are manifest quite differently in the three main characters. Unique expressions of faith, different journeys, same faithful God.
• We don’t have to be defined by the moments of crisis we face in life, and we are not dependable interpreters of what these moments mean or don’t mean. Our identity, our hope, is in Christ… who faithfulness anchors us through the storms and crises of life.
• With the short, almost poetic structure of the book, it is easy to overlook or minimize the severity/implications of Naomi’s crises.
• It’s also easy to oversimplify the characters and the story (ala our Sunday school “education” via flannel-graphs) or to lift them up as unrealistic (& unbiblical) “saintly” examples. But these were real people, living in real places, during a real point in history, experiencing real pain and grief. The more we can connect with those “real” people, the more likely we are to gain some insight and encouragement from their experiences.
• A New Testament “companion passage” that may be useful is the I Peter 1:3-9 (and the rest of chapter 1). We read it on Easter Sunday, and it continues to resonate with us as we read through Ruth. It does deal with a lot of the same themes. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Identity Questions about Characters to Process in my Own Life
• What crises and transitions does each character encounter? How do they respond to them?
• What do we see about the identity of each character before, during, and at the end of the story? How did/might they identify themselves? How were they identified by others?
• What can we see of their relationship to God? God’s relationship to them?
The Crossroads Series Week by Week: Identity (in) Crisis
• May 30 – Telling the Whole Story
• June 6 – Naomi
• June 13 – Ruth
• June 20 – Boaz & Series Summar
READING ROMANS BACKWARDS
- The Bible Project videos on YouTube for the sections of the Book of Romans like this quality illustrated summary of chapters 1-4.
- This artistic 'spoken word' summary video of the relational context of the Book of Romans.
- The well-researched historical novel Phoebe by Paula Gooder about the woman who carried the Letter to the Romans from Paul to the church in Rome and likely was the one to read it and explain it to the Jewish and Gentile Jesus-followers gathered there.
- This 'spoken word' video of the history of the Jewish people.
PREPARING FOR EASTER: LENT RESOURCES
Our team is challenging us as Crossroaders to prepare for Easter in an intentional way in this unusual 2021 Lent season. We are offering an Ash Wednesday Zoom gathering to mark the beginning of Lent as a season of reflection. We encourage each Crossroader to intentionally choose a spiritual practice to engage in each day for the 40 days from Febrary 17 through Easter. In addition to any of your own resources, Crossroads is providing:
- a daily meditation on all our social media accounts.
- printed resources to fill a jar with 40 slips of paper offering a short prayer-- one a day for each day of Lent:
This link for a bringing aspects of our brokenness under the grace of Jesus
EXTRA RESOURCES FOR GROWTH
As you grow in intentionality to make more room for God in your life and to embrace the spiritual rhythms that will nourish you in this season, check out these resources
- Sign up via this link for the subscription for RightNow media paid for by Crossroads.
- Enjoy the Crossroads Christmas greeting magazine with resources for both adults and kids to use all year round via this link.
- Download this daily devotional app from the 24/7 prayer movement called Lectio365 with Scripture meditation, with a missional, contemplative and artistic flavor.
- Praying for persecuted church!
BEATITUDES "UPSIDE-DOWN" SERIES RESOURCES
- The Dai Woolridge spoken word version of the Beatitudes can be found here via this link.
- A version of the Beatitudes with artwork and choral music with an African sound. Click here
- A intro video about being "pure in heart".
GOOD FRIDAY, EASTER AND "FOUR PORTRAITS OF JEUS" RESOURCES
"The Chosen" app: (available free from app stores) has a fresh dramatization of the ministry of Jesus and his disciples
READING GROUP BOOK TITLES 2020 - 21
Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk between Doubt and Faith by Tyler Staton with forward by John Mark Comer
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer
- Link to the John Mark Comer speaking to get a better sense of who the author is.
- Link to workbook.
- Link to a series of discussion guides.
The Praying Life by Paul Miller
A Walk through the Bible by Lesslie Newbiggin
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton (contanct the office at firstname.lastname@example.org for details of starting date)
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero