I have never read a book before that has changed how I interpret an entire book of the Bible…until now. This book has left me scratching my head wondering how I never saw this before.
The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Custis James is a must read in my opinion for any student of the Bible. I have never heard this interpretation of Ruth before, which is sad, because it has helped me in answering a question that has vexed me for years…Is God good for women? It has also added some much needed depth for me to the feminine hall of faith. Finally, my new understanding of the book of Ruth enables me to draw stronger connecting lines between Jesus’ teachings and the Law.
Better than merely seeing Scripture in an insightful way, James unearths Ruth, making the traditional love story interpretation with Boaz as the kinsman redeemer riding in as the hero, a superficial treatment to God’s message. The truth is, most of us have missed the point of this book. So what is the point?
To answer that, you have to ask what question is raised in Ruth. What was the dilemma? The broken link of Elimelech’s family line, yes, but there is a louder dilemma if you look closely. The point is not the bloodline of the Messiah…the point is the heart of the Messiah of that bloodline.. At its core, (my conclusion, not James’), Ruth is about the Law. Specifically, two story lines are taking place in this book, two instances where the Law is being followed to the letter and yet producing a result far short of God’s will. The book of Ruth is essentially God’s sword to the Pharisee in all of us and it is a message of hope as well to a beleaguered Eve struggling under it. The takeaway for Naomi, Ruth, Boaz and us is do not view the Law as God’s heart. Ruth shows that neither God nor His thoughts, are understood or served through the Law, unless man goes beyond it. In both story lines the Law, even while being carried out, exposes something despicable in man. Indeed, even if one could fulfill all of the Law, they could still not be righteous for the Law does not love. God and man, need to bring that to it.
While seeing the reflections of Jesus’ teachings in the Old Testament is important, the biggest impact of this interpretation for me is in the message it gives to women.
I exist with a jumbled thought pile in my brain when it comes to how God views women. When I search the Scriptures, edges are easily blurred between God’s purpose in a woman’s creation, the effects of the curse, the reality of sins further distortion in culture throughout history, our presently church defined roles and its implied nuances…it all leaves me with a complicated mess. Sifting through confusing bits and pieces of Scripture leaves a woman with an unclear and indecisive picture of how God views her. As a Christian she (should) know God loves her, that she is an image bearer and that she is important, but in the back of her mind lingers a horrific line of thought… is she insignificant? Is she important but not as important as the man? Is she some sub–category of mankind? Some sort of baggage that is linked to man?
A woman who approaches the Scriptures has to look hard to find where she fits and only after looking very closely finds herself included and important. How important or if she is AS important is difficult to determine because so much seems to fly in the face of equally important. But it is there, and once she finds it she must cling to the mental gymnastics she had to undergo to come to that conclusion the next time she is faced with the all too common hard verses. Just as a woman’s worth is challenged in history and culture so a casual approach to the Scriptures will yield a challenge to her worth as well.
Understanding Ruth in this new light grants me three new clues into the whole mess. First, by including some true heavyweight counterparts to other male Biblical characters, I am bolstered in the hope that references to women in the Scriptures with strong roles are not some odd fluctuation of the normal. Second, by simply acknowledging the plight that women have, especially in a harsh patriarchal society, brings validation that the situation is indeed a plight, not something that God necessarily condones. Third, and this is big, seeing the Law as not something which expresses God’s heart is a relief as the Law is one of the biggest offenders in the Bible that can make a woman conclude that she is nothing much in God’s eyes.
I am going to write one more post covering the framework James works off of but I will not be able to do her work justice so I encourage you to invest in the book. She spent much more time researching this than I have and thus you would be better served to learn from her than me.
At last, this book will not answer your every question that relates to women in God’s scheme. It will however help buttress you as you wade through all of those other difficult verses. For me, that is very precious indeed. It is also not to be considered a ‘pink book’, helpful only for women. If the story of Job and Abraham is important to male and female readers alike, so is Ruth. It is a tragedy that this book has been glossed over by so many of us because of what we believed the story line to be.