When I was in college, one of the books making the rounds was Lady In Waiting, a presentation of the book of Ruth as an ideal love story. It encouraged women to become more like Ruth (or at least the author's toned-down perception of her) in order to attract a Boaz. I read the book once and felt slightly icky. But Carolyn Custis James' book The Gospel of Ruth (which I finished last night) proves that relegating Ruth to a holy romance novel or dating advice book totally misses the point. CCJ makes a case for Ruth as an ezer-warrior who fearlessly trusted in God's love for her. Although her culture considered her worthless (she was a barren widow and a foreigner), she stepped out to provide for her beloved mother-in-law. The book also paints Naomi as a female Job, delving into her suffering and and what we can learn from her response. Also, rather than focus on Boaz as the sole hero and star of the show, CCJ proposes that Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth worked together as a team, commissioned by God, to save Naomi's family line and (unknowingly) give it a place in the lineage of Christ.
I was energized by this book. Having neither husband nor children - having lost a husband - I sometimes feel second-rate in the eyes of the Church. So I never tire of hearing things like:
A woman’s high calling as God’s image bearer renders her incapable of insignificance, no matter what has gone wrong in her life or how much she has lost. Even if her community shoves her aside, turns a deaf ear to the sound of her voice, or regards her as invisible — even if she is forced into a passive role in the community — she remains vital to God’s purposes and is a solid contributor anyway. She simply cannot be stopped.
For most of my adult life, I took the typical Reformed view of women's roles. That went really badly for me. I know truth is truth no matter what, but my experiences have definitely changed my thinking. I continue to study Christian thought on gender roles and I still haven't figured out exactly what I believe. I'm not a total complementarian anymore, but I don't embrace everything about egalitarianism. I'm still sort of taking it all in. What I do know is, I have a desire, maybe even a passion, to encourage and empower other women that wasn't there before my marriage and divorce. I have felt helpless, hopeless, sidelined, worthless, alone, and like a total failure as a woman of God, and I don't want any other woman to feel that way. Women and men have equal purpose and worth in the eyes of God, regardless of marital status, or the status of their marriages, or the size of their families. I loved this:
Boaz uses the same Hebrew word (hayil) for Ruth that the narrator used earlier to describe him as a man of valor — “the elite warrior similar to the hero of the Homeric epic.”Some Bible translators downsize the word to “noble character” or “excellence” here in reference to Ruth. Not so fast, say Hebrew experts. “When the term is used of a woman (Ruth 3:11; Prov. 12:4; and 31:10)19 it is translated ‘virtuous’ (ASV, RSV ‘worthy’ or ‘good’) but it may well be that a woman of this caliber had all the attributes of her male counterpart.”And this:
When Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, she may have felt like a useless piece of driftwood that had washed up on the beach — a relic of a bygone golden era, a woman who had outlived her usefulness. In God’s eyes, she was still on active duty and the treasure of his heart. Her story has purpose written all over it, although the signals she receives from the culture and from her own heart tell her otherwise. She is unaware of the fact that, instead of setting her aside, God is readying her for a strategic kingdom mission.
Obviously this is a huge subject that can't be summed up in a blog post, but I wanted to share some thoughts. I highly recommend the book. I also appreciated this review, which made me give a few points a second thought.
Oh and a side note: this is the first book I read entirely on my Kindle! I already have another CCJ book (Half The Church) and a Booksneeze selection ready to go. Yay!