How did Ruth wind up in Boaz’s field? Out of all the fields around Bethlehem, the first field she went to to glean was one of Naomi’s closest relative’s field. Did God lead her there?
I want us to think for just a minute about how we, personally, experience God working in our lives. We are going to give thumbs up for “agree” or thumbs down for “disagree,” and there are no right or wrong answers.
-Sometimes it is hard to see the way God works in our lives.
-Just because we have a difficult time recognizing God’s hand, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
-God often works from behind the scenes.
-A coincidence is simply God’s way of remaining anonymous. (from Horizons, 2007-2008, Carol Bechtel)
Naomi is quick to credit God with leading Ruth to Boaz’s field. When Ruth returns to Naomi with more barley than she could have possibly gleaned just by following behind the workers, her mother-in-law asks, “Where did you glean today? Blessed be the One who took notice of you.” Already, Naomi is crediting God with the abundance. Ruth responds, “The man’s name is Boaz.” And in our English translations of the Hebrew, the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version both miss Naomi seeing God’s guidance. They translate “Blessed be the One” as “Blessed be the man who took notice of you.”
How often do we fail to recognize God’s activity in our lives? God guiding us? Nudging us? I think a lot of the time, we are like Ruth. We take life at face-value. “The man’s name is Boaz” instead of acknowledging that God is working in and through us, that we are guided in our lives by the Holy Spirit.
Now, I know that some people might ask “Do Presbyterians believe God predestined Ruth to go to Boaz’s field and them to meet?”
The answer to that question is quick and simple – no. Predestination has to do with God knowing from all time who would be saved, not deciding who would meet in a field. The theological word they mean is predetermination, and Presbyterians don’t believe in predetermination. Predetermination says that God has foreordained every event throughout history, reducing the world to nothing more than a playset for God. But, we know that God formed the world, formed us, for relationship, out of love. A playset can never return love. So, God did not predetermine every event throughout history. Instead, God gave us freewill. And yet, God is active in the world.
There is another theological term for this, providence. Rev. Dr. Don McKim wrote this explaining providence, “Presbyterians believe that God created all things and also that God sustains and guides all things. This is called the doctrine of Providence. God upholds the creation by God’s power. If God created all things and then walked away, everything would collapse! God’s ongoing preserving power is needed to support the creation. But even more, Presbyterians believe that God is also involved in creation. One part of providence is that God cooperates with the people whom God created to work in the world to accomplish God’s divine purposes. Humans can have a relationship with God that enables us to share in God’s work and carry out God’s will. God’s divine will is the power and purpose behind the universe. The fantastic news of the Christian faith that Presbyterians share is that humans can participate in the divine purposes! God can use even us to carry out God’s will for creation and the human family. This enables our lives themselves to have purpose and meaning; we are participating in God’s work in this world.”
Providence can be hard to recognize until we look back on our lives. John Flavel was an English Presbyterian Clergyman in the 1600’s, and I love the way he put the difficulty of seeing God’s providence in our lives. He said, “Providence is like a Hebrew word – it is best read backwards.” Just because we can’t see how God is working in our lives right now, doesn’t mean that God isn’t working in our lives right now.
Dr. John Goldingay is a professor at Fuller Seminary and an internationally respected Old Testament scholar. When he was thirteen, he was walking home from school one day and met a teacher from the Sunday school that he had left two years earlier to go to another church. She told him that his old church was about to start a new youth fellowship, and she wondered if he would like to go. So he went. He says, “It changed my life.” The minister was a keen theologian, and the young man caught his interest in theology. If it hadn’t been for that chance meeting, Dr. Goldingay might never have become an Old Testament scholar. Then seven years later, when he was 20, he went to a Christian students’ conference and one morning happened to sit by a particular young woman at breakfast and got talking to her, and he and Ann were married for 43 years until her death in 2009. He says, “It was the most influential meeting of my life, and it just happened by chance.”
Or did it? The dictionary defines the word coincidence this way: a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. But I have another name for it when I see God’s fingerprints all over some chance occurrence. I call it a God-incidence.
And when you look, you see them – timing working out just right, doors opening to allow for a major change in your life for the better, someone reaching out to say they care just as you were feeling low – God’s fingerprints, God-incidents, providence.
God is active in your life and mine. Paul said it this way in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
Ruth happened upon Boaz’s field. Boaz happened to come and check on his workers. Boaz happened to offer her protection and generously told his workers to pull out some from the bundles for her. Boaz happened to be Naomi’s close relative. The closest relative happened to not want to be married to Ruth. Boaz and Ruth happened to be married, happened to have a child, and that child happened to be the grandfather of King David, and a direct ancestor of Jesus. Looking back, we see God’s fingerprints on Ruth’s story, and if we recognize them, on ours as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.