Provider, Please Provide

It’s been a long few days.

In the midst of a long staff retreat, one where we shared bits and pieces of who we are with one another, opening the deep caverns of our hearts, a tragic and unsurprising thing broke loose in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am tired, in more ways than one. My body is tired from truly, enjoying time with my peers and co-workers for four straight days, as well as my heart from empathy overload. However, to a degree, a comparison game must be played.

I face a few things, yes, because I am female, but I will still never ever face the degree of persecution that my brothers and sisters who are people of color, different than my white heritage, will ever face. I have said too many ignorant things, forgetting first and foremost that the commandment behind loving the Lord my God with all of my heart is to love my neighbor as myself, even if they don’t look or act exactly as I am or do. I prayed even today, that the Lord would hack this death off of me, the racism in my own heart that I do not see. I can not even imagine how tired my brothers and sisters of color find themselves to be.

Like a few weeks ago, I have done some more digging into what I will teach at my home church this Fall, through the book of Ruth. I have sat now in Ruth 1 for quite some time, parsing the Hebrew, checking the patterns, mining the gold. Two things in specific have challenged my prayers, challenged my view of our Lord, shown in the heart of a widow in Ancient Israel.

The first is that Naomi laments, and she doesn’t hold back. I had taken some time to write about this a while back on my first time around with Ruth. I will never tire that our Father in Heaven hears these cries, allowing us to seemingly shake our fists at Him as He knows we don’t see the full picture. Our laments don’t further our distance from God; they instead bridge a gap in that there is still an acknowledgment of Who we know Him to be. Come through, Father.

The second is exactly that acknowledgment piece, the piece that calls upon God to be Who we know Him to be. Naomi calls upon God when she laments, and she uses a very specific title of God.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
— Ruth 1:20-21

She calls the Lord here the Almighty, in Hebrew, Shaddai. Although in many situations throughout the text where Shaddai is found, He comes like a mighty warrior, I was struck by another meaning that this word could be translated as: provider.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the word, I find it beautiful that Naomi calls on the provider to restore, calling upon the provider that she knows her Lord, Yahweh, to be. Even though I may find it beautiful, this call of faith in Who she worships, Naomi makes it clear that she is empty, she is found wanting, she is tired. Her life around her is destroyed, her livelihood, her everything taken from her. She invokes this name of the Lord, provider, to do what He said He would do in the midst of her circumstances saying the exact opposite.

I can’t wrap everything up in this beautiful looking bow, and most of that is because everything in our world is totally broken and riddled with sin. I am tired, and even though I cannot speak for my brothers and sisters of color from their exact experience, from simply my relationships with them they have expressed that they are much more tired and empty than I am. Our Scriptures unravel and show us how to lament in these days, these days full of brokenness and heinous evil, showing us that we can call upon our God to be who He says He is. Provider, please provide. Judge, please judge, bring mercy and justice swiftly in the face of it looking the opposite.

I cannot help but look to the rest of the book of Ruth, the context, to start to hope once more. As Naomi calls upon God to be who He is, to come through on behalf of her lack, a book where God is barely mentioned moves through a woman named Ruth. God’s loving kindness is shown in and through a woman who lays down her livelihood and her future for another whose life is seemingly over, a foretaste of our future hope in Christ Jesus who lays His life down for us, cruciform.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
— Ruth 1:16-17

Our call today is to die as well, and as we lament along with our brothers and sisters, we who have privilege are called to lay that down as followers of Christ, just as the Son of God laid His down. We not only have a call to emulate Naomi and Ruth, but to be like Christ, because of the great love with which He loved us.

It’s uncomfortable to die, to give up our lives, but it is where true life is found. Until we all are free, we all must come and die.