A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT — MAKING RUTH CENTRAL

series-famines-deserts-and-other-hard-places-part-three-empty-stomachs-empty-arms-ruth-1-1e2809322-naomi-entreating-ruth-518x400

People of faith who grant authority to the Bible invariably privilege some portions of their Scripture above others. Everyone has a “canon within the canon.” Even the fundamentalist who says that the Scriptures all carry equal weight grants that Mark 7:19 (where Jesus “declared all foods clean”) trumps Leviticus 11:10 (which declares shellfish an “abomination”).

So, communities of faith make some parts of Scripture central to their theology. Those central parts provide an interpretive lens through which the rest of Scripture is read (or ignored). It might be the Abrahamic covenant, the story of the Exodus, the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the writings of Paul, or apocalyptic end-times prophecy. Whatever is given place of prominence colors the way we read the entire Bible and shapes the life of a faith community.

Interpreters approach the book of Ruth in a variety of ways. Most seem to find it a charming, romantic story. Some treat it as a folktale, others as a bald recitation of historical fact. Everyone can draw some message from it. But no one — as far as I am aware — absolutely no one makes Ruth the center of the Scripture.

That realization brings me to a thought experiment. What would a community of faith that made Ruth the heart of its canon look like? If Ruth were the interpretive lens through which they read the rest of the Bible, what would their theology and practice be?

For example, since the book of Ruth is named for a woman, and since women (Naomi and Ruth) are its protagonists, would women be given a more prominent place in this hypothetical community? It is nice to think so, but I’m afraid that the answer is “no.” The book of Ruth reflects the patriarchal assumptions of the culture from which it came. Women in this book are reliant upon men. Boaz is the knight in shining armor who rescues Ruth and Naomi.

Then there is the question of the law. Christians tend to treat the law as either a cudgel to keep the faithful in line or a goad to prompt sore consciences to repentance. In the book of Ruth, the law is a positive good, a tool, if you will, to the gospel. It is through the laws commanding gleaning and levirate marriage that Ruth and Naomi are first kept alive and then lifted to a state of happiness. (I should point out that this is, to my understanding, a Jewish approach to the law). A community based on the book of Ruth would likely see the law as instruction to provide for those in need.

Related to the question of the law, is a point about premarital sex. Most faith communities frown on sex before marriage. Some Christian groups in particular put a great stress on sexual “purity.” But something happened between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor that night. The author of Ruth is a bit coy, but whatever happened delighted Boaz. No one else seems to think it amiss. Granted this is a case of a woman in a patriarchal culture using her sexual wiles to assure her future, but, within the narrative world of Ruth, there is no condemnation for what happened. Would a community that used Ruth as its interpretive lens be more permissive about premarital sex? Maybe so.

How would my hypothetical community define “salvation?” For many Christians salvation means having your ticket punched for a ride on the heaven train. The book of Ruth, like most of the Hebrew Bible (and some of the New Testament), shows no interest in the afterlife. Postmortem rewards and punishments are of no concern here. If Ruth et al. achieve immortality it is through their notable offspring. Salvation in this book is about having one’s physical needs provided: food, shelter, security.

An Old Testament professor of mine defined “shalom” as that state where “You have everything you need to live and be happy and I know it. And I have everything I need to live and be happy and you know it.” The word shalom does not (to the best of my knowledge) occur in the book of Ruth, but that sense of mutual concern for each other’s well-being seems to undergird the entire narrative.

If the Hebrew word shalom does not occur in Ruth, the word “hesed” certainly does. Hesed signifies something like “extravagant, faithful, merciful, kind, loving, loyalty.” It is a rich concept and an important theme in this book. It is an attribute of God but also a human attribute modeled by Ruth in her treatment of Naomi, and Boaz in his treatment of Ruth. My imaginary community of faith would be a community of hesed.

Many faith groups stress God’s sovereignty. The book of Ruth also recognizes that God is free to work weal or woe. Christians who emphasize sovereignty are usually monergistic, that is, they insist that God is the sole actor in the work of salvation. (My own Lutheran tradition tends this way). In the book of Ruth, human beings seem to have free will, and human agency is a factor in salvation. Ruth chose to accompany Naomi. Ruth took the initiative in her relationship with Boaz. As a result, Ruth assured her future and became the direct ancestor of both Israel’s greatest king and, in the New Testament, the Messiah. I don’t see monergism being a factor in a theology that put the book of Ruth at its center.

One last point, and it should almost go without saying, a faith community that used Ruth as its interpretive lens would be open to outsiders.

My community based on the book of Ruth exists only in my imagination. Were it to be translated into a reality, it would be like any other faith community: imperfect. It would have features both good (a stess on hesed) and bad (disempowerment of women). Perhaps real faith communities would benefit by adopting (or placing greater emphasis on) the good features of my hypothetical community.

What do you think? What features would a community that placed Ruth’s story at the heart of its theology have? Are there good features that your faith community would benefit from?

38 thoughts on “A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT — MAKING RUTH CENTRAL”

  1. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you
    make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this from.
    thanks

  2. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole
    my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be
    a youtube sensation. My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views.

    I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  3. Hey! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website
    with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Terrific blog and terrific style and design.

  4. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but,
    I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested
    in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

  5. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.

    I am quite certain I’ll learn many new stuff right here! Good luck
    for the next!

  6. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking
    more of your excellent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  7. Hello there, I found your web site via Google whilst searching for a comparable matter, your web site got here up, it seems to
    be good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hello there, just was alert to your blog via Google, and located that it is truly informative.

    I am gonna be careful for brussels. I will be grateful when you proceed this in future.
    A lot of folks will be benefited out of your writing.
    Cheers! adreamoftrains web hosting companies

  8. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after checking through some of the post
    I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  9. Hello there, You’ve done a great job. I will certainly digg it
    and personally suggest to my friends. I am confident they will be
    benefited from this web site.

  10. Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and
    tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop,
    just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views.
    I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  11. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well
    written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information.
    Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

    cheap flights 3aN8IMa

  12. Thank you for some other wonderful post. Where else could anybody get that
    kind of info in such a perfect means of writing?

    I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the look for such info.

  13. I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your blog?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
    people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better? 0mniartist asmr

  14. Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers 0mniartist asmr

  15. Hi exceptional website! Does running a blog such as this
    require a lot of work? I have virtually no knowledge of computer programming however I had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyways, should you
    have any ideas or techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I understand this is off topic nevertheless I just needed to ask.

    Many thanks! asmr 0mniartist

  16. Fantastic items from you, man. I have consider your stuff previous to and you are
    just too wonderful. I really like what you have received here, really like what you’re saying
    and the way in which during which you assert it. You
    make it entertaining and you still care for to keep it
    wise. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a wonderful web site.

  17. Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with
    us so I came to give it a look. I’m definitely loving the information.
    I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my
    followers! Excellent blog and excellent style and design.

  18. Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is basically a game where you can do anything you want. sl is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these second life websites and blogs

  19. Pingback: free russian dating sight

  20. I actually wanted to send a brief comment so as to thank you for these nice advice you are showing at this site. My extended internet look up has at the end been honored with brilliant strategies to write about with my good friends. I ‘d assert that most of us site visitors actually are extremely blessed to be in a magnificent network with so many brilliant professionals with insightful tips and hints. I feel extremely fortunate to have discovered your web page and look forward to tons of more enjoyable minutes reading here. Thanks a lot once more for a lot of things.

  21. Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

Comments are closed.




%d bloggers like this: