outlook

It's All a Matter of Perspective

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They happened to enter Bethlehem just when the barley harvest began. Ruth 1:22 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Basically, there are three ways to see things in life—our own outlook, the viewpoint of others, and the way things are in an objective sense. Only one person sees all three perspectives—the Lord.

When we or others view people, life events, or whatever else, we see things subjectively. Each of us have our own biases. How we see the world and all that’s in it—including ourselves and others—is viewed through our beliefs, emotions, experiences, and values.

We can claim a sense of objectivity but that’s all it is—a sense. Only the Lord sees things in the truest objective way because He is eternal. When God reveals His perspective, as in the Scriptures, we still tend to see it through our own biased lens.

3 Perspectives

This final vignette of this first chapter of Ruth gives us a glimpse of all three perspectives—Naomi’s, the viewpoint of other people, and the actual situation.

The arrival

After Ruth’s declaration of commitment to stay with Naomi, they traveled from Moab to Bethlehem in Judah—a journey of at least 2-3 days by foot.

As they enter Naomi’s hometown, everyone is excited to see her and the women wonder at Naomi’s presence with a young Moabite widow and no husband—Can this be Naomi?

Naomi’s response is telling. It reveals how she sees her situation and why it happened. Not only is it subjective, it’s somewhat typical for most of us.

Naomi’s outlook

Let’s consider each of Naomi’s three statements.

  1. Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.— Naomi’s name can mean both pleasant or sweet and Mara means bitter. It’s a play on words to describe both her inner state and her outlook on life. And she holds the God responsible for her situation.

  2. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.— Do you see how she puts the blame for her situation on the Lord? Naomi sees her life’s misfortunes as God’s hand against her and uses a play on words to make her point. Her statement about going out full but coming back empty is her view now but it will change by the end of the whole story of Ruth.

  3. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.— It’s pretty clear Naomi is playing on the sympathy of others as a victim of circumstances though it was her husband and her choice to leave Judah ten years before. She only returns because things have reversed—they left because of a famine and she returns because of God’s provision for Israel. Her answer may be posed as a question but it’s rhetorical—the answer is clear—the Lord is the cause of her problems.

When things go wrong, most if not all of us are quick to find some reason it happened and someone else to blame. Many people blame God for all the problems in the world. Somehow He’s responsible for everyone’s choices and all the bad and evil things that happen.

Here’s our conundrum—we want God to intervene when and where we think He should but don’t want Him to interfere with our own choices and pursuits. It’s as if we want to be in control of God. This is one of the many consequences of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

A full circle

Ancient writings followed the common literary structures of their time. Some of the literary devices are more obvious than others. The use of contrasting words and concepts is one of the most common.

Chapter one of Ruth begins with a famine but ends …as the barley harvest was beginning. The scope of the book starts out with a timeframe of ten years but telescopes down to one day and a pivotal meeting in the last chapter.

The heart of the story begins in the next chapter where Ruth becomes the main character in this story of redemption. Even this first chapter ends with a redemptive focus—going from famine to harvest and coming from a far country to home.

Naomi can’t see this for now but she will in the end.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Reflection—

When things go wrong, we tend to blame something or someone else rather than ourselves. We’ll even blame God because of our own expectations in life. We don’t see things from a clear and objective perspective.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself shifting blame to someone other than yourself and not facing your own responsibilities, ask the Lord to show you His perspective of your situation. Ask Him to help you learn a better way to handle things.


devo Scripture Text

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (Ruth 1:19-22 NIV)


Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s

What's the Point?

Photo credit: lightstock.com
Photo credit: lightstock.com

Cynicism is easy to cultivate. It's a defiant mindset somewhat like a self-preservation tactic. It's not hopelessness, but a sense that life is pointless. That's my take on it.

I'm prone to become cynical until I realize where it leads me. Personally, I see cynicism as an attitude of pride—I know better than others, but I don't care. Perhaps I'm overstating it, but that's how I see it.

Nihilist philosophy is like cerebral cynicism. Its answer to the question of the meaning of life is another question, "What's the point?" This may seem like an oversimplification, but this is the tone of Ecclesiastes—King Solomon's philosophical lament. But hold on! Some valuable insights can be drawn from this apparently cynical observation of life.

Scripture

Neither the wise person nor the fool will be remembered for long, since both will be forgotten in the days to come. Both the wise person and the fool will die. So I came to hate life because everything done under the sun seemed wrong to me. Everything was pointless. [It was like] trying to catch the wind. I came to hate everything for which I had worked so hard under the sun, because I will have to leave it to the person who replaces me. Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? He will still have control over everything under the sun for which I worked so hard and used my wisdom. Even this is pointless. [vss 16-19]

Then I fell into despair over everything for which I had worked so hard under the sun. Here is someone who had worked hard with wisdom, knowledge, and skill. Yet, he must turn over his estate to someone else, who didn’t work for it. Even this is pointless and a terrible tragedy. What do people get from all of their hard work and struggles under the sun? Their entire life is filled with pain, and their work is unbearable. Even at night their minds don’t rest. Even this is pointless. [vss 20-23]

There is nothing better for people to do than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their work. I saw that even this comes from the hand of God. Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to anyone who pleases him. But to the person who continues to sin, he gives the job of gathering and collecting [wealth]. The sinner must turn his wealth over to the person who pleases God. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind. [vss 24-26]

(Ecclesiastes 2:16-26 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 2]

Key phrase— Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God?

[bctt tweet="Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God?"]

Digging Deeper...

What is the life situation that causes King Solomon to view life as pointless?

Why does he come to this conclusion, and how does this effect his outlook on life?

What conclusion does all of this thinking bring Solomon to realize?

How does this realization bring a better perspective and value to life?

Reflection...

The problem of cynicism is what it leads to—a dead end. Why? Because pride—self-exaltation—leads us into an isolated and introspective mindset. In other words, we can't see beyond our self.

Every human being—all life on earth—has a time-limited life span. Even the time we think we have can be cut short. So, if our whole world revolves around ourself as the central most important thing in the world, then life can appear pointless.

Solomon's realization of what brings satisfaction—the existence and presence of God—changed his view of life. It brought him to view life from a different perspective. He saw a continuity to life beyond himself.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What are the things that cause you to lose sight of the value of life?

What (or who) is most important in your life? Does it help you see beyond yourself, or make you more self-focused?

How does acknowledging God's existence help you have a better outlook on life?

What are specific ways you can view life beyond yourself?