Mad at God? God Can Take It

When I was in seminary, I especially loved Hebrew class and all of the other classes associated with it. Maybe it was because I took Hebrew before I took Greek. Maybe it was because I especially liked the professor, Johanna Bos, who had just come to Louisville Seminary at the time. In any case, I enjoyed my time working with Hebrew. A few years ago I was in a book club in Peoria that was mostly women from the Jewish temple. When I walked into one of their homes and read the little wall hanging that she had embroidered in Hebrew right inside the door, she was very impressed. Of course, it was the Shema, probably the only thing I could still read in Hebrew. 🙂 

When I did my Hebrew exegesis class, the assignment was the book of Ruth. I got very interested in the book and its structure. In fact, I wrote a paper with the theory that it had originally been performed by a younger woman and an older woman as a four-part short comedy. There are three main characters, but only two of them appear in any scene. One woman could have portrayed both Naomi and Boaz since they do not appear together. Now, you might wonder about it being called a comedy. I learned as I was researching my theory that the classical definition is something like this: “… amusing and satirical in tone, mostly having a cheerful ending. The motif of this dramatic work is triumph over unpleasant circumstances by creating comic effects, resulting in a happy or successful conclusion.” That is exactly what the book of Ruth is.

Here is the story: Naomi and Elimelech, her husband, are having a perfectly nice life in Bethlehem until there is a famine. This drives them and their two sons to immigrate as refugees to Moab where they establish themselves. The two sons marry Moabite women. But then tragedy strikes again. All of the men die, leaving three widows in one household. Naomi decides to go home to a house she owns in Bethlehem. She wants her daughters-in-law to go home to their own mother’s homes so that she will not have to take care of them. Orpah complies. Ruth does not. Instead, she tells Naomi that she is going with her. This is the famous “whither thou goest” speech. Naomi reacts to this profession of devotion by shrugging her shoulders and turning her face toward Bethlehem.

As they draw near to Bethlehem, some of the women there see Naomi and a stranger approaching and debate whether this could be their friend who has been gone for so long. As she hears them, Naomi says “Don’t call me Naomi (which means sweetie) but call me Mara (which means bitter.) She then rants about how God has left her totally empty. “I went away full and have come back completely empty.” (Of course, Ruth is standing right next to her while she says this. Talk about being patient!)

The two women eventually pull themselves together and realize that there is a law requiring a male relative to marry Ruth that will save them. Naomi and Ruth maneuver in such a way that this takes place and a baby is born to the union. Naomi ends up praising Ruth saying that she has turned out to be better than seven sons would have been. And, of course, Ruth is the great grandmother of King David, which makes her the great-great-great. . . .-grandmother of Jesus. Talk about a happy ending!

Here is why I have been thinking about this story now. Naomi is about as mad as one can get at God when she gets back to Bethlehem. And God can take it. She is not punished for her anger; she is not excluded from the plans God has for this family; she is not banished. She is allowed to rant and rave about her anger at how her life has turned out, even blaming God for it and she is still part of God’s good intention for the world.

Do not be afraid to be mad at God about all that you have lost in the last few weeks, about all that has changed so dramatically, about all of the pain and suffering in the world. God can take your anger. It will not exclude you from the family of God. And all of the loss and grief and dread do not mean that God’s good intention for the world cannot be realized. In the midst of this we are still the beloved children of God who can be angry at God or praise God—perhaps both in the same breath—and be able to hang on to the hope we know through Ruth’s boy, Jesus.

The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago