A Sign of the Times

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. Ruth 1:6 NASB

In giving them food – How do you know when God is working? What signs do you look for when you need physical evidence that God is showing favor? The answer just might be culturally determined. In the days of the chieftains, when Israel was all but at civil war, the sign of God’s favor or disfavor was rain. No rain equals no food. No food equals God’s punishment. So when the rains begin again, and the crops produce food, God must have relented of His anger.

Today we barely give any credence to this form of divine expression. We think that lack of rain is the result of El Niño or a movement of the jet stream or sunspots or something explained within the natural world. In other words, because we operate in a closed universe of cause and effect, we no longer see the handiwork of God in natural occurrences. So we look other places—healing, spiritual euphoria, a certain inner feeling, “miracles.” Our evidence of God’s handiwork has been pushed outside the world He created because we are now confident that we can “explain” the world without Him.

In the time of Ruth, this truncated epistemology would have been considered insane. No one would have imagined that God was not actively involved in nature. Therefore, every natural process exhibited something spiritual. In this instance in Ruth, the Hebrew phrase latet lahen lahem provides us with a nice alliteration of God’s reconciliation. “To give to them bread” is a declaration that God’s favor has fallen on the land as water from the sky. It is God who is responsible and it is to God that these people must turn. El Niño has very little to do with it.

But we don’t think like this. Especially in the West, we operate with an absent God. Oh, He’s still there—somewhere—but not here. Here the world is explained by a causal chain—an unbreakable causal chain. We are no longer those unsophisticated, superstitious ancient people. We are supremely rational. Our world is the world of understandable explanations. And for just this reason, we can’t see God in this world. When we adopted the Enlightenment view of the universe, we threw God out of creation. He occupies and is occupied by the spiritual realm, that place where rational explanation doesn’t apply—and therefore God’s territory really has nothing to do with our ordinary living. We might desire to visit the spiritual world, and we attempt to regularly (how odd) do so in worship and other religious activities, but God really isn’t part of the typical day-to-day life. We are the makers of the world of the everyday.

Without recognizing how truncated our world of rational explanation really is, we long for a sign from God, particularly when life is traumatic. But, of course, our metaphysics has already made such a sign impossible. In other words, we can’t see it even when it is right in front of us because the sign is just “natural.”

Let it rain.

Topical Index: sign, giving them food, causality, miracle, Ruth 1:6