As I did my weekly quiet time on Ruth 1 yesterday, my mind went back to some posts James McGrath did on Christian inclusivism:
“In the [synoptic] Gospels, Jesus praises Gentiles for their faith and sends them on their way, with no attempt to ensure that they understand about monotheism, much less about who he is. The Bible simply cannot bear the weight of the exclusivist system fundamentalists place on it. Nor can it, when one seeks to do justice to the various things the Bible says on the subject, be used to support the idea that ‘believing in Jesus’ alone matters or even matters more than (or apart from) what one does.”
“What makes [Christine] Wicker’s book so powerful is that she tells the stories of fundamentalist Evangelicals sympathetically even though she is an ex-Evangelical herself. On the one hand, she notes that the power of Evangelicalism seems to be available without the doctrine: the Twelve-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous discovered that surrender to a Higher Power works even if the notion of that Higher Power is vague, or is clear but different from the Christian one.”
“In a sense, [the movie Bucket List] is ‘evangelistic’, but for that non-dogmatic perspective that emphasizes not dogma but love, family, relationship, compassion, loyalty, and other things that are not the sole property of Christians, and which fundamentalist dogma is sometimes even a hindrance to.”
Throw into the mix the Highway to Heaven episode “A Child of God” (see A Humble God in Ezekiel 22), and you’ll see where I’m going. There, a pastor asserts that God doesn’t care about people acknowledging him as much as he wants them to do good to others.
So why did Ruth 1 remind me of these quotes? For two reasons:
1. In vv 8-9, we read the following: “But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband'” (NRSV). In v 15, Orpah goes back to her people and her gods.
Naomi was not expecting Orpah and Ruth to become worshippers of YHWH. She knew that when they went back to Moab, they would worship the Moabite gods. That’s the way things were back then! But she still believed that God would bless them because of their good deeds.
This isn’t exactly the typical evangelical approach: “Apart from Christ, our good deeds in God’s eyes are like filthy rags!” As far as Naomi was concerned, Orpah and Ruth did good to her and their dead husbands, so God would (hopefully) reward them accordingly.
2. Ruth 1 isn’t really about the worship of God. Ruth doesn’t leave behind her family, her people, and her religion because she cares about God, at least not as far as I can see. Rather, she does so because she loves Naomi. She leaves behind her comfort zone and God’s blessing in Moab to help out a poor, defenseless widow–one who appears to be under a divine curse. But God takes note of her kindness and blesses her in the end.
So where should we go with this? I wouldn’t go as far as James McGrath and deny the importance of Christian orthodoxy. There are plenty of Scriptures that emphasize the worship and glory of God while presenting Jesus as the only way to salvation. In addition, God may have been displaying his patience to the Gentiles prior to Christ’s first coming, since he knew they were in spiritual darkness (Acts 17:30). I guess my point is that we shouldn’t always assume God confines himself to a box. He can get outside of that box and interact favorably with whomever he wants: believer and unbeliever.