The book of Ruth can be read on several levels:

Historical — In this book, the author relates to us that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David and a great, great, great, great…grandmother of Jesus. It also transitions from Israel’s era of the judges that of the monarchy.

Theological — In its pages we are told that people can live faithfully in faithless circumstances. (During the era of the judges when most were “doing what was right in their own eyes,” the characters in this book were, by and large, attempting to live as God directed.) The book also reiterates that God’s kingdom is open to all who desire to follow him. (Ruth was a detested Moabites). Boaz’s redemption of Naomi and Ruth from dire economic circumstances foreshadows Jesus’ redemption of us from sin and damnation.

Philosophical — The book indirectly addresses the problem of evil in a world created by a good God.

Carolyn Custis James, in her book “The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules,” suggests that Naomi, a lead character in the book, is a “female version of Job.” I would have us give serious consideration to her assertion.

First, let us note the circumstances of Job:

• He was an upright (ch.1:1), wealthy man (ch. 1:2 –5) honored by God. In the theology of his day, he had it made in the shade because he was living a life that pleased God.

• He lost it all in the blink of an eye – wealth, family, health. (chs. 1:13-2:8)

• His wife suggested he curse this God who had afflicted him and die. (ch. 2:9,10) (Let’s not be overly judgmental. These were her losses, too.)

• Four friends who meant well, wrongly insisted he was being punished for unconfessed sin. Job insisted on his innocence and accused God of treating him unfairly. (chs. 2:11 – 37:24)

The similarities in Naomi’s life are striking:

• Famine struck Israel and Naomi’s husband took her as an immigrant to an unfamiliar land. (ch. 1:1)

• Her husband died. (ch. 1:3)

• Her two sons married pagan Moabite women. (ch. 1:4) Only a devout “believer” can understand such deep heartbreak.

• Both sons died childless. (ch. 1:5, implied)

• Naomi lashed out and blamed God for her circumstances. (ch. 1:13, 20,21)

• From Naomi’s perspective, the burning question was, “Where is God in all this?”

In both books are valuable perspectives in attempting to reconcile how evil can exist in a world created by an all-powerful, good God:

Job — There are some things we’ll never understand because we aren’t God, but God is and we need to trust him. (Job chs. 38 – 42)

Naomi — When all hell breaks loose and all hope gone, God is still with us and he is at work. (Ruth chs. 2-4)

Both — Bad things are not necessarily God’s punishment for sin. Unknown to Job, God was proving to Satan the genuineness of Job’s faith. (ch. 1:6-12, ch. 2:1-6) Ruth’s trip to the gates of hell and back began with a famine, an event she did not initiate.

One thing we must keep in mind: Not everyone’s story ends on a positive note as did Job and Naomi’s. Their ill fortunes were reversed and they prospered again in this life, but this is not everyone’s experience. For some, justice and restoration come only in eternity!

“God is good all the time; all the time God is good.” This is a statement of faith often heard around the church. A statement which often flies in the face of life as we know it, but a statement of faith onto which we must cling no matter what our circumstances!

W. Jonathan Payne is a retired pastor in The Wesleyan Church who lives in Greenwood. He may be reached at jonandmary@centurylink.net or at 864-341-6794.