A major doctrinal theme in the book of Ruth is the Sovereignty (or Providence) of God, which is the biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will (see Eph. 1:11). His purposes are all-inclusive and never thwarted (see Isa. 46:11); nothing takes Him by surprise. The sovereignty of God is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that He does so, always and without exception.
Did God Cause Naomi’s Suffering?
If God is good, why is there so much suffering? Because God works in our suffering for His glory and our good. Suffering never comes our way apart from the purpose and sovereignty of God—and for that reason, suffering is always significant and never meaningless. Here are some ways that God brings good from our suffering.
- Suffering is our preacher and teacher. It was Luther who said that he could never properly understand some of the Psalms until he endured suffering. A sick bed often teaches more than a sermon.
- Suffering is the means purifying our hearts. In times of prosperity, our hearts are often divided, half pursuing God and half obsessed with the world. But in suffering, God takes away the world so the heart will hold to him in full sincerity. Like the Smelter in Malachi 3:2-3.
- Suffering conforms us to Christ. There is meant to be symmetry and proportion between the model and the canvas, between Christ and his people. Suffering is like an artist’s pencil that draws Christ’s image upon us. If we want to be parts of Christ’s body, we must want to be like him, and if his life was a series of sufferings, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), then we must suffer too.
- Suffering loosens our hearts from this world. If we want to remove a tree from the ground, we first need to loosen the earth from around its roots. Just like that, God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the world-system. (God loves the world but hates the world-system of corruption, greed, lust.)
- Suffering makes way for comfort. God tempers outward pain with inward peace. “Your sorrow shall be turned to joy” (John 16:20). Many believers can testify that in suffering they have had the sweetest experiences of joy and the closest sense of God’s nearness.
- Suffering shows that God makes much of us. Job asked, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him?” (Job 7:17). In suffering, God makes much of us in at least three ways. God condescends so low as to take notice of us at all. Suffering is also a sign of sonship. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7).
- Suffering is a means to joy. Suffering brings joy by bringing us nearer to God. When God begins to remove our worldly comforts, it is then that we run to him and make peace with him. It was only when the (younger) prodigal was needy that he returned home to his father (Luke 15:13) and only when the dove could not find any rest that she flew to the ark.
- Suffering silences unbelievers. Unbelievers love to claim that Christians serve God only out of self-interest. Therefore, God has his people suffer so they will shut the mouths of those who cast aspersions on them and their God. It shuts the blasphemers’ mouths to see Christians hold fast to their God in suffering.
- Suffering makes way for glory. As ploughing prepares the earth for a crop, so suffering prepares and makes us fit for God’s glory. Suffering does not earn us glory, but it does prepare us for it.
In all these ways we see that suffering is not harmful to believers but beneficial.