Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ruth and the Idolators

The book of Ruth, beginning, end, and middle, is wrapped up in Naomi's search for a man for security. She's like an Old Testament Yenta: "Even the worst husband--God forbid!--is better than no husband--God forbid!" She hopes her daughters-in-law will find security with new husbands; she takes it on herself to help Ruth hunt one down; and she finally relaxes in the last scene with a baby grandson in her arms who will take the place of the husband and sons she has lost.

Partly it may be Naomi's personal obsession; partly it may be a sign of a culture in which women had to depend on men for security. More than that, though, I think it is a sign of a culture in which people had to depend on other people. Surely an old and feeble man would have been just as desparate to have someone young and strong to bring home the mutton. Their world was a personal one; there was no Social Security or Society for the Aged and Infirm. If there wasn't a someone to go to, there was no somewhere to go.

By the same token, their idols were personal ones. They worshipped gods with bad habits and shrewish wives. Their gods might have been lacking in looks, hygiene, and basic morality, but they were never lacking in personality.

I think we tend to have the opposite problem, which obscures our favorite form of idolatry. Sermons do preach against idolizing money or pleasure, but I think what we most like to idolize is systems. Systems are where we turn for security. Systems are what care for us when we need help. Systems are what we ask to fix things when things go wrong. Even the One True God sometimes has a little too much personality to suit our tastes, and we prefer to fit Him into one of our systems.

This is where a lot of things in modern Christianity go bad. We start looking for the System that will solve our financial problems, find us the perfect spouse, raise our children, grow our church, win the lost, care for the poor, or what have you. We want to know what the right steps are to follow, and if we just follow those steps, we would prefer a money-back guarantee on the results.

Lots of time the original idea wasn't a bad one--every step of it can be shown from Scripture!--but it's the nature of our age to turn it into a System. And from there it's an easy step for us to expect it to provide us with peace, joy, love and holiness. We still say those things come from God, but really we would be quite astonished and a little offended to find God working outside our beloved System.

The ancient Israelites wanted gods with bodies; we want gods with checklists. Just as much for us as for them, God is something far greater than we can conceive.


Carrie said...

Well, this is certainly true for me! I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I hide behind my rules. I feel safe when there are checklists, like you mentioned, and I know I can count on x, y, and z to happen (and in that very order)!

Thanks for the thoughts!

SongBirdy said...

Our pastor was preaching on relationships and touched on this topic too. By hiding behind systems, like social services and such, we are crippling our ability to help each other. We don't get to know each other's real needs. Unless we work to tell others our needs. Yet none of us want to be that whining person who is always sharing all of their needs all of the time.

I have a question though, what is the root cause for our love of the system? I have a working theory that believes that it stems from our love of ourselves. After all, we don't have to take the time to be involved in someone else's life because if they have a need they can take themselves to the appropriate place... yada yada.

Or, in the home, I can be righteously indignant that my husband doesn't have ketchup, for example. Why? well, he didn't follow my system and write on the grocery list when he took the last bottle of ketchup. Naturally I could have checked but really he disrespected me and my oh so easy system.

I don't know if I love the systems as much as I love how it enables me...

Like I said, its a theory in the testing I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

[and I've never thought of Naomi as a Yenta but I had a great laugh!]