Naomi/Mara – Blaming God

“Why me? How could you let this happen, God?” (Doesn’t that sound familiar?)

In the book of Ruth, there is this story of Naomi and Ruth.

Naomi is a Jewess from Bethlehem, Judah. There was a famine in Israel. Naomi, her husband (Elimelech) and her two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) migrated to Moab to escape the famine.

In Moab, her two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.

Elimelech, the patriarch, died. Then Mahlon and Kilion died. We’re not told what caused their deaths. Naomi is left with 2 daughters’ in law, Orpah and Ruth.

Then Naomi heard that the Lord had come to aid His people, back in Israel, by providing food for them. She prepared to return home. She tried to discourage both her daughters in law from following her home to Israel.  But Ruth was determined to stay with Naomi, come what may, and was prepared to accept Naomi’s God (Shaddai) as her God.

When Naomi returned home to Bethlehem, the people were shocked at seeing Naomi. They exclaimed “Can this be Naomi?”

Naomi’s name means pleasant. Perhaps they were shocked not only of her return but of her appearance and circumstances. Here was a lady who was Pleasant with a full family when she left Bethlehem, and then after 10 years, she returns home a widow and with no sons; and only a Moabite daughter in law in tow. What a tragedy!

Naomi replied “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara (which means bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty, why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me, The Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.

 When tragedy occurs (illness, suffering, pain, death of a loved one), most of us ask these questions. Why? Why God? Many of us blame God. And why not, we reason in our minds: since He’s in control of every situation, He should take some of the blame. Why couldn’t He intervene?  Why didn’t He answer my prayer? Or in Naomi’s words – God caused this.

The irony of it is that, even atheists blame God. People who don’t believe in the existence of God blame God for all the atrocities, suffering, pain, on earth. And for this reason they don’t believe He exists (?!)[1].

It looks like everyone blames God, both believers and unbelievers. Poor God!.

Besides blaming God, to add insult to injury, many also blame Naomi for blaming God[2].

All these views about why we should avoid being bitter are appreciated perhaps more as a lesson for the rest of us who have yet to experience the grief, pain, bitterness, disappointment at that moment.  But I feel that sometimes when such advice if given to the grieving at an inappropriate time, it only adds to the pain. They are grieving, the last thing that they need is to deal with another layer or burden of guilt.

Blaming God is a natural reaction to grief. For many people it is a normal process of grieving. It is a way to deal with the pain[3].

What does God say to Naomi after she poured out her grief, anger, and disappointment at Him? Nothing. He says nothing. Most of us also do not hear an audible voice from God after our rant.  It is unlike Job whom God answered. [And we’re told that it was a test or wager with Satan.]  Perhaps it’s a mercy that God does not answer us, because the answer would be for him to zap us instantly.

When faced with tragedy, most of us may come to a crossroad, a crisis of faith.  Some may choose to draw near to God, some may choose to reject God, some may choose to give God the silent treatment. Whatever it is, it’s not for me to tell anyone how they should to feel or behave, everyone has a choice.

But if one chooses to reject God, the downside is :

Who else can we run to? Who else can we call for help? How can we move on without God?  We all have tasted of His goodness before.

What about the dead? How can we honour and remember the good times that we had spent with them? We can only thank God for them.

Dr Alejandra Vasquez also shares, “Let others believe for you”. That’s when Ruth and the community around Naomi stepped in. I think Ruth in particular believed for Naomi. She was kind to Naomi, provided food for Naomi, she was obedient and was a great comfort to Naomi and loved her.  And Naomi got better. She started to give advice to Ruth and was instrumental in the love affair between Ruth and Boaz. She also redeemed her portion of her land.

This story has a happy ending, Boaz and Ruth finally wed and Ruth gave birth to a son, and this became Naomi’s son. The community rejoiced with Naomi and said

“Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter in law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”.

They named that boy Obed. And Obed became the grandfather of King David. Bitterness turned into hope and redemption for this family. 

A few centuries later, there’s another story of another young virgin. Her name was derived from the root word “mara” (bitterness) too. She also went to Bethlehem. She was Mary[4]. She also bounced a baby on her lap and cared for him. The baby was called Jesus. The genealogy of Jesus can be traced back to King David.  King David, the grandson of Obed.  Obed in turn was the son of Boaz and Ruth.  Ruth was the daughter in law of Naomi. The same Naomi, who once called her life bitter and blamed God. We can only marvel at God’s hidden hand in the lives of His people, how He turned bitterness into joy, hope and redemption. Now, Hope and Redemption extends to the whole world through Jesus Christ. And in a way we have to thank Naomi/Mara for this.

Perhaps you have experienced or are experiencing some pain, suffering and unanswered questions, even bitterness. It may be difficult for us to see light at the end of the tunnel.  But God certainly can. He knows and He cares. May God turn all our bitterness to pleasantness.

[1] The 5 best reasons not to believe in God, Jarred Cinman 26.2.2015

[2] As an illustration – Naomi, the Negative, Ruth the Resilient. Devotionary the Bible Made Accessible & Applicable, Grief, bitterness & Griefshare – Pamplin Media Group. And many others.

[3] What can you do if you lose faith after a loved one dies? Dr Alejandra Vasquez.  Another reference: Totallyvintagediva; The Selah Moment, the story of Mara, Naomi.  Aug 10,2020

[4] The name Mary is of various origins, but most notably Hebrew origin and means “bitter, beloved, or drop of the sea.” It is derived from the Hebrew name Maryam/Mariam, and though the origins are not entirely clear, it is believed the meaning of Maryam is “drop of the sea” (from Hebrew roots mar, meaning “drop” and yam, meaning “sea”); “bitter” (from Hebrew marah, meaning “bitterness”) family education. 

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