My summer Bible study is a quick one, four weeks. We’re covering (the Book of) Ruth, which is tidy since Ruth has four brief chapters: yay, Nancy (our facilitator)! If you haven’t read Ruth for yourself, pick it up and have a seat. It won’t take you long, and there’s always more going on within a biblical text than you remember when you think, “Oh, yeah, I know the story.” Now that you’ve read (or re-read) Ruth, let’s move on… .
This past week we arrived at Chapter 3, When Ruth Goes Down to the Threshing Floor. There are all sorts of interesting cross-currents and sub-currents swirling around here if you’ve picked up some Ancient Near East anthropological details and/or if you’ve acquired a little ancient Hebrew… but that’s not what I’m talking about today. (Though those’re fun; take me out for a beverage and I’ll expound!)
One of the things I find interesting about Ruth is that, like Esther (Book of), God as God’s-self doesn’t show up much here. No big revelations, no splashy signs, no theological dicta set out like billboards. But God is profoundly present, like a subfloor, or a subterranean stream. Ruth is about the way God provided for one family who persisted in following God even after everything had gone horribly wrong.
And Ruth is about leaning into God’s provision with boldness. In this chapter, real, big boldness on Ruth-the-person’s part… I mean, she goes down to the threshing floor at the end of the harvest. After dark. If you get my meaning. (Told’ja to go back and read it!) And it comes out well for her in the immediate term, short term, AND long term—that’s an impressive payout. To match her impressive risk.
But here’s my real-life conundrum I’m musing. We in the US of A are all in favor of bold, and leaning in, and risk. To have the Bible affirm that God wants us to be bold—how perfect is that?!?! I, myself, have done me some bold leaning in, on more than one occasion. With mixed results, of course, since I am not a protagonist in a Hallmark movie or the Book of Ruth. That’s fine.
What I remember, though, about each boldness is that in real life it worked a lot like…like a growth spurt. There would be a time of gathering energy, of a vague sense of imminence, and a lot of prayer, discernment, and consideration. There would be the bold move—energy shifted from potential to kinetic, with no way to retreat. And then there would be a time of adjustment into the new ‘place’ I’d arrived after the move. A consolidation, perhaps. Or even healing, if you change the analogy to one of muscles and the microtears required to build strength.
I don’t think our American narrative of boldness includes the before or the after. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t make for as tight a story—Ruth doesn’t include much of the before or after phases either. Or perhaps that narrative is only willing to include a perpetual barrelling-forward… Westward ho! or Progress!
But I really think we should, when we preach Ruth’s boldness to our believing compatriots, make room for the discernment-time before, and the living-into after. It makes sense to me that our souls would be subject to the same sorts of rhythms our bodies are. We surely must have our soul growth-spurts, lest we dry up and crumble to dust. And so we must feed our souls, and rest them, all while checking with God to be ready for the next bold call to come. And once we move, we then celebrate, praising God’s provision and resting in it a while.
God may favor the bold, but I think Edna Mode is also right:
I just believe more in God than in luck.