REASON AND FAITH
The Book of Ruth recounts an interesting story that illustrates the power of faith. In the first chapter, everybody appears to be quite rationally disposed in their actions. They act according to visual observation, risk calculation and wager decisions. When famine hits the ‘Promised Land’, a godly family goes to Moab, a Gentile nation, because the survival possibilities are better there.
Although it was a rational choice, they didn’t survive in the ‘greener’ territory. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the rich man who wanted to build bigger stores. Reason creates the illusion that we can control our fate; however, we need to remember that only that which is under God’s control makes sense and is completely dependable. If we think that the risk of dying as a martyr in a hostile country is greater than in a friendly country, then we are mistaken. The Lord has made it clear, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk.8:35). His rule is simple, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt.6:33).
Naomi’s husband Elimelech, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, died in Moab. They escaped from the famine only to fall by the sickness that struck them. Human wisdom suffered a setback. With the dawn of ‘modernism’ and ‘enlightenment,’ mankind believed that it had finally ‘arrived,’ that God could be safely banished by science and that utopia was not far away. However, the two world wars dealt a powerful blow to human confidence in the power of reason; very soon, novels and movies discussing the absurdity of life, meaninglessness, loss of absolute truth and uncertainty of future, filled book stores and theatres.
When we make choices independent of God and His wisdom, the end results are bound to be harmful. Naomi was remorseful over the results of the wrong choice she and her family had made in leaving Bethlehem of Judah and moving on to Moab because of the famine. This is what she told the people of Judah when they barely recognised her, “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth.1:20-21). She was bitter and blamed God for the calamity that befell her and her family.
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you” (Psa.73:21-22). A heart not protected by faith falls to the fiery darts of the Enemy.
Orpah fell in line with the rationalism of her age. Although she initially made up her mind to follow her mother-in-law wherever she went, Naomi’s reasoning convinced her that she should go back to her own people in Moab and live in comfort (1:10). And that was the end of Orpah!
But Ruth was different. She refused to listen to the bitter voice of reason. She disregarded the negative arguments of reason because they did not appeal to her. She decided to walk by faith and love. She decided to follow Naomi and her God – the God of Israel.
Naomi unwittingly tried to show that Moab was positive and the Promised Land was negative. She even tried to persuade Ruth to follow her sister-in-law’s example, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” Nevertheless, Ruth humbly pleaded, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
Volumes can be written on these words of Ruth; they encapsulate the history of faith. Ruth wasn’t concerned about the things and the prospects that worried Naomi. Her focus was different. She exemplifies those whose priority is God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Ruth did not need the motivation of a preacher or the emotional appeal of a hymn, for she was sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit of God in her heart, despite the gloomy and discouraging circumstances, even when Naomi, the only person who could support her, insisted that she should leave her alone. Ruth’s decision was not based on human reasoning, but one that was motivated by faith and love (Gal.5:6). That is where Orpah failed and Ruth prevailed.
It is faith, not human intelligence, that overcomes the world (1Jn.5:4). The modern world, with all its intellectual brightness, is getting increasingly darker with moral failure and monstrous evil. The sharpest minds engage in the most brutal and nefarious acts of human wickedness. But God uses those who are in Christ Jesus to confound and shame the worldly wise (1Cor.1:18-30; 3:18-19).
Ruth did not argue to justify her decision. That she was right in God’s sight was evident; “faith is the evidence” (Heb.11:1).
It is interesting to note that when Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she “stopped urging her” (1:18). The voice of reason fell silent before the determination of faith. When faith resolves to obey the will of God, reason has nothing more to say; it falls silent, because faith cannot be persuaded by arguments or rationalisations; its meat is to do the will of God.
We know the rest of the story. Ruth helped Naomi find the right perspective in life. Faith brings meaning into life and drives away all bitterness caused by godless reasoning. It brings reason into right perspective with God. Later, it was Naomi who would take the lead to tell Ruth the steps she had to take in accordance with the instructions God has given in the Law. The Bible doesn’t downplay reason. However, it is not reason, but faith that creates history; because, only the things that bear the stamp of God’s approval will last forever.
Ruth married Boaz, and in their lineage was born our Lord Jesus Christ whose kingdom shall never end. She sought God and God incarnated in her bloodline. The first chapter of the New Testament proudly records her name among the few women who feature in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
“By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen” (Heb.11:3 NLT).