Wednesday 5 November 2008

Choosing Life, Facing Death

Our choices in the face of death, reflect our priorities in life. This was clear from our study of Ruth chapter 1 last Sunday.

Elimelech chose life when faced with the threat of starvation. He moved the family from Israel to the foreign land of Moab. There was no bread in the house of bread, Bethlehem.

Naomi, having lost her husbands and two sons, chose to return home when she heard that God had blessed Israel with food again.

It is easy to be critical of Elimelech and Naomi.

Elimelech, whose name means "My God is King" sure didn't act as if he trusted God to provide during times of hardship. We are meant to see God's hand of judgement behind not just his death, but the death of both his sons. Ironically, in choosing life, Elimelech received death.

Similarly, bible commentators note the significance of Naomi's "return" home (verse 6). It is the same word used of repentance. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the word is used to describe instances when the nation of Israel turns back to God.

It is equally true, however, to note that it is God who brings her home. Naomi says as much - "The LORD has brought ... (her) back empty". It is not so much a recognition of the sovereignty of God, as it is a complaint against an Almightly who has left her no other choice for survival.

Behind our life choices, is the will of God sovereignly acting for his purposes. But when faced with tragedy and loss, isn't it cruel to imply that we shouldn't make choices that preserve our lives and livelihood?

There was a famine in Israel, should we be so quick to condemn Elimelech for leaving? Naomi had buried her husband, and both her sons - doesn't she have a right to be bitter, even angry, that now even with signs of God's provision in the land, it seems like too little to late?

But there is one more life choice in the story that we need to consider. Ruth, the widow of one of Naomi's son, chooses to return with her mother-in-law to her people, her land, and ultimately, to her God (verses 16 and 17).

Naomi tells Ruth to return to her own homeland in Moab. That's the pragmatic choice which her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, took. Tagging along with Naomi meant that Ruth would be a foreigner in a land that was in turmoil during the rule of the Judges (verse 1), with no protection, and little prospect of marriage, support, or income.

It would be tantamount to choosing death over life. But that's not how Ruth sees it. That is not how we are meant to see as an alternative to choosing life.

In the face of the threat of death, and the option of returning to a better life, Ruth choose something else. Ruth chose God.

She chose God over returning to life in Moab. And she twice invoked death as a penalty should she leave Naomi and her God. Actually, verse 17 reveals that Ruth sees God's judgement over unfaithfulness even more severely than death itself.

For Elimelech and Naomi; for Ruth and all of us: The choice we need to make in this life isn't so much between life and death - we have neither the insight, foresight or ability to decide the outcome of our existence. The true choice that faces us as creatures under the guiding hand of our creator, is between living for God, or living for ourselves.

Jesus says in John 5:24
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."

For Christians, the choice is a clear one in Jesus.
What Jesus is saying here (to borrow an old UCCF slogan), is:
"Know Jesus=Know Life
No Jesus=No Life"

(In Cantonese, this works as well: Mo' Jesus = Mo' Life.)

In the coming weeks, we will see that because Ruth chose God, she received life.