“Where was God when... (enter catastrophic event here)?” 

 This question says as much as it asks. It suggests that the god who canprevent something awful, willalways do so. This question is often asked critically to prove god is either incapable and/or unwilling to prevent evil. This, of course, calls into question the worship, obedience, and trust in such a god. But, notice the change in tone when we ask one another the same kind of question. “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” or “Where were you on 9/11?”We do not expect fellow finite beings to have been present, much less to have had the means by which to foil these evil-doers’ plans.God is not let off the hook so easily; we tend to expect more of Him. But His power and His concern are not so easily disproven. According to Scripture, God is simultaneously transcendent and imminent. That is, He is above all and yet near, enthroned in heaven (Psalm 2:4) while remaining providentially involved in the smallest details of human life (Col. 1:17).

Few portions of Scripture demonstrate this paradox like the Old Testament book of Ruth, the power-packed drama about the gracious provision of God. But before it is a story of blessing and redemption, it is a story of heart-breaking loss. The reader hardly gets past the first paragraph before the patriarch of a small Israelite family and his two sons die in a foreign land, survived only by the widow Naomi and her two daughters-in-law.By the end of the first scene, Naomi, in no uncertain terms, assigns full responsibility for her terrible loss to God (Ruth 1:19-22). If you were to ask her where God was when all the men in her life passed away, she may have confidently answered, “He is on His throne, as always.”

This isn’t the only appeal to God’s sovereignty in Scripture (Psalm 115:3), not by a long shot. Job, who lost more than Naomi, never spoke negatively against God, but declared, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD”(Job 1:21-22). Naomi appears to struggle a bit more on this issue than did Job, nevertheless she never doubted God’s existence or His fateful involvement. After being gone for more than a decade, she returns to her hometown with a new identity. She left as Naomi, meaning pleasant. She returned insisting she be called Mara, meaning bitter. Her reason for the name-change: The Almighty had dealt very bitterly with her(1:20). She was not happy about it, but she was willing to accept the LORD’s righteous discipline, however severe (1:21).

How was Naomi able to reconcile God’s loving-kindness with her loss? A fascinating clue is found in the names she uses for God. Twice she uses the personal, covenant name of God, Yahweh, which speaks of God’s imminence, His nearness. And twice she uses an older, more generic name for God, Shaddai, which speaks more of His distant transcendence. Naomi sees God as the God to whom she must submit, as well as the God who can be trusted. While God does not stop all evil, His perfect character is not in question. Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and neither are our ways His ways. All of His ways are good, without even the smallest exception. 

The book of Ruth ends with God’s gracious provision for Naomi on remarkable display. As with Job, God blesses Naomi in ways she could never guess. Such is sometimes the case in our lives, however, even if these merciful endings never come, God remains eternally worthy of our worship, obedience, and trust.