Tuesday, 16 September 2014

In Days Like These

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

In the days when the judges ruled...
Ruth 1:1

For those who know what’s gone before, the first line of the book of Ruth – ‘In the days when the judges ruled’ – sounds ominous.

For this was an era of increasing religious apostasy, moral apathy, and unlawful violence. These were dark days of political, social, and spiritual chaos. As if to reinforce the point, the book of Judges ends with a downward spiral of breakdown in episodes of idolatry, lawlessness, and civil war. The horrific story of the gang rape and dismemberment of a nameless woman shocks us into realising how far the people of God have failed in their calling to be a holy nation, with everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (17:6; 21:25).

The opening of Ruth seems to take up where Judges leaves off – describing famine, death, widowhood, childlessness, and grief in quick succession – a world of anguish, every bit as dark and hopeless as what’s gone before.

And yet, a closer look reveals something different. Difficult to see at first, it becomes clearer as the story unfolds. In Judges, the major characters abandon their commitment to God and others. In Ruth, they gladly shoulder their covenant responsibilities. The shameful, violent treatment of a woman by men in Judges gives way to tender, honourable conduct towards women in Ruth, where men and women become partners in a common cause. In place of idolatry is integrity. In place of cruelty is compassion. In place of fear is faith.

And through it all, God works out his purpose with the inclusion of a Moabite ‘outsider’ into the fold of the covenant people – not only as one who is herself a sign of the fulfilment of his promise to bless the nations, but from whom King David – and Jesus himself – is eventually born.

For us too, the book emboldens us to see God at work in and through day-to-day events and relationships, new transitions and challenges, the common sorrows and joys we share with others – the grief that comes with death, the delight that comes with a new birth. The story told in Ruth encourages us to discern God’s ‘fingerprints’ in the routine of our own life. And to recognise that no act of kindness, no stand for what is right will go unnoticed as God gently nudges us towards his future redemption of all things.

Yes, even in days like these.

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