In the Middle of It All…

On Valentine’s Day I partook in an event which honored those who are living with, have survived, and who have lost their lives to breast cancer. Though the night was full of fun, there was a somber remembrance that 1 out of 8 people will be diagnosed with this awful disease, and have to face the treatments and horrors associated with cancer. I had a conversation with some ladies prior to the event and we discussed why such a terrible thing was present in our world. It is a hard question to answer, and even harder when a person believes in God. Why would God allow pain and hurt to run rampant in our lives? I believe my pastor had a great answer a few months ago during a sermon about Ruth…

The hardest place to see God is when you’re in pain. When life is pain-free, it’s easy to see God. When you ace that test, when you get that second interview, when your surgery goes well, then you can see the hand of God in your life.

But when you suffer, your ability to see God is put to the test. Where is God when school is so miserable that dropping out sounds better than another day? Where is God when life is so pathetic that a bottle is more appealing than facing your problems? Where is God when chemo makes your hair fall out, when your child is sick, when you’re so broke you’re scared of the future? Where is a good God in the middle of all that?

Some people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Ever heard that before? At first it sounds like a cop-out, a way to defend a God who doesn’t seem to be doing much for you. But it’s true. Everything happens for a reason.

This concept is found countless times in the Bible, but God also expresses it very directly: Romans 8:28 – In all things God works for the good of those who love him. When it comes to believers and those who love God, everything really does happen for a reason.

My favorite example of this knowledge is found in the story of Ruth. When you read the book of Ruth, truth is put into action.

Are you unfamiliar with Ruth? Here’s the gist of her story…

The Book of Ruth opens with a woman named Naomi. Naomi literally means “pleasant”, and for awhile she leads a pleasant life. She married a man she loves, and had sons with him. Then famine struck and her entire family left their home in Israel (Bethlehem to be exact) to move to Moab. Moab was notorious for being full of unbelievers and idolaters. Unfortunately, this was the best land for the family to move to, and the sons soon fond wives for themselves among the Moabites.

A few years down the road, Naomi’s husband died, as do her two sons. She is forced to bury her entire family in foreign soil, a heartbreaking situation for people of those days. When the famine finally ended and she returned to Bethlehem, she asked her neighbors and friends to call her Mara from then on, a word which translates to “bitter”. It seemed as if Naomi has buried her belief of God’s love back in Moab as well.

Luckily Naomi did not travel home alone. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, came with her. Though she wanted to honor her husband and take care of his widowed mother, Ruth’s main reason for returning with her mother-in-law was due to her love for the Israelite God. She entered into a desperate situation rather than stay in her homeland and remarry simply to be surrounded by fellow believers.

Ruth attempted to care for both Naomi and herself by picking up scraps of food in the locals farms. In historic times, it was required of farmers to leave items fallen on the ground for widows, orphans, and those who likely would not survive otherwise. So there is Ruth: widowed and childless, foreign, dirt-poor, starving to death, and living with a bitter old woman.

The field Ruth frequented was owned by a man named Boaz. The two are introduced as she is struggling to find scraps in his field, and being the gentleman he was, Boaz asked for his servants to throw extra scraps to the ground for Ruth in the future. That was a very romantic gesture back then! Sooner or later the two become aware that they’re both single and presto: marriage and children.

I do not mean to take this lightly! This is HUGE! Read how the neighbors and friends of Naomi rejoice at this news of Ruth’s first son:

Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.

Can you imagine this scene? Naomi, the self-proclaimed bitter woman, holds her first grandchild. There’s a huge smile on her face, the tears running down her cheeks are those of pure joy.

There’s a brighter end to Ruth’s tale as well; her son was named Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of King David. If you’re new to the Bible, I know, those names are meaningless. So here’s why it’s so special: Naomi’s grandson will have a grandson, David, who becomes the greatest king in Israel’s history. More than that, Jesus Christ, is of the genealogy of David. Ruth and Naomi are great-great-times a few hundred years-grandmothers of Jesus!

Do you see God in the middle of this tale? God isn’t the author of pain, suffering, and evilness. Sin isn’t his idea. Death isn’t his plan. He, in fact, promises that pain is not pointless.

The hardship often is trying to see how God is in the middle of our pain. How is he always working for our good? What I tell myself, the whole essence of my belief in God’s goodness, and my personal answer to my trials in life is easy: even in the painful mess of our world, I believe that God is love. When tragedy strike, my gut reaction is to pray. Usually it begins with “God, why would you let something like this happen to a good person like me?”

Then I remember that no one can claim to be good in God’s sight. On my best days I am guilty of worrying, lusting, lying, doubting, being proud, petty, and self-centered. I’m not good. I quickly forget to thank God for when life is good. I’m incredibly entitled; I believe God owes me a healthy body, good job, strong relations, and a great life. But in truth – I don’t. I’m as sinful a person as any, and I deserve a tragic life.

That’s why I am so amazed when I hear about Jesus and the things he did for me. Why would someone who isn’t like me, who isn’t guilty of worrying, lusting, lying, doubting, being proud, petty, and self-centered, come to a painful place like Earth to be tormented and tortured and murdered? All for me? It is unbelievable. It is ridiculous. But that is God. That is love.

So what good things is God further planning to do in your and my lives? I don’t know the specifics, but I do know there is a plan. He promised us that; and I have faith to take him at his Word.

Faith is kinda-sorta like making a cake. Just think of how gross some cake ingredients are all by themselves. There’s flour, which tastes disgusting. There’s raw egg, which tastes even more disgusting. There’s baking cocoa, which is one of the most bitter substances on earth.

Bitter. That’s what Naomi called her situation, when she looked at things individually. But God was looking at how these things would work together, and just like individually bitter things make a great cake when worked together, so God made individually bitter things work together for good, for keeping his greatest promise, the promise to send a Savior.

*Quote exerts taken from a sermon read on January 4, 2015 by Rev. Headrick of Grace Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, MI

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