Once Upon a Time
“Once upon a time” is the way all good stories begin. It is also the way Christians deal with the question “Does my life matter?” In a story every character is essential. Every person has significance. So we say “Once upon a time” and follow with our faith and our doubt, our obedience and our disobedience, our worship and our indifference. All of that and more is part of a story—a story that means something.
Not all stories are about heroes. Not all stories are epic adventures. We do have heroic stories—those of Joseph and Moses and David and Paul. But there are also stories like that of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz. Here the action is very everyday. But all that everyday action—the immigration, the loyalty of Ruth to Naomi, the kindness of Boaz to Ruth, the attentiveness to the Law—all these details are part of a story that is a subplot in God’s great salvation story. The story that means something—and also means everything.
Naomi got into this story by complaining. She experienced loss, complained bitterly about it, had her unhappiness taken seriously by the storyteller and formulated into a complaint against God. These verses are worded in such a way that she is presented as a plaintiff before God. This style of complaining put into legal form was also spoken by Jeremiah, who engaged in suit and countersuit between God and the people. He took up the people’s complaints and pressed them into a legal suit against God; the accusation was that God had failed to be just and fair.
Even though it seems impious, even blasphemous, to talk this way to God, the plain fact is that it is thoroughly biblical. By listening to each other’s complaints and formulating them against God, we help one another get into the story. We don’t always have to be on God’s side, defending him. There are times when our biblical position is at the plaintiff’s side. By being taken seriously—not rejected, not toned down, not spiritualized—Naomi’s complaint becomes part of the story. The emptiness of her life is woven into the plot and, in the process, into the occasion for demonstrating God’s providence.
Do you hesitate to voice your complaints against God? How might Naomi’s story guide you in speaking to God with greater candor?