In Jr. High I was burdened with a recurring fear: I would be left behind.
A Distant Thunder, a film that made its rounds though church groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s also made a lasting impression on me. Shown to our youth group one Sunday evening it vividly portrays a group of friends who flirted with faith but who never made determinations to follow Jesus. And since they failed to make such a life-altering decision, they were subsequently left behind when the rapture occurred leaving them to fend for themselves while many family members were taken up into the heavens.
Long before the Left Behind series, A Distant Thunder and other similar materials were frequently used to convinced—or coerce—young teens to give their lives to Jesus before they lost their lives, seemingly in a car wreck or plane crash or some other equally frightening scenario.
Fear motivated me to reassert my trust in Jesus most every night as I crawled into bed with my older sister rather than staying in my own bedroom tucked as it was in the basement of my parent’s sprawling home on the Kansas prairie.
I no longer believe in the rapture nor in any other convention someone creates where a loving God decides time is up and unleashes a storm of violence against any who refuse to submit to such fear-mongering love. And yet, a whole host of Christians continue to be fed this scenario and also a lot of other equally appalling ideas calling all of it “biblical” or “Christian.”
For example, I recently learned about a movement afoot where people tout Boaz, the male character in the Old Testament story of Ruth, as a figure who exemplifies all that is Christian, indeed, all that is good. Juliet Roberts writes, for example, in her article The Christian Woman’s Dating and Marriage Guide to finding a “Boaz” Husband, that every woman has a Boaz, someone who is perfect for you.
So, if I may: can we begin by acknowledging the depth of biblical ignorance when someone claims Boaz is a role model of a good Christian?
Boaz—whether a character in a novella or a figure of history—was an ancient Israelite. If someone wants to suggest he is worthy of emulation: fine. But, please understand that Judaism existed prior to Christianity and while if a gospel writer suggests Boaz was part of Jesus’ lineage, such a suggestion still does not make Boaz a good Christian man.
Perhaps even more distressing: can we read the Bible closely and make a little effort to understand literary context? When someone says Boaz is a person to emulate because he knew to marry “his own kind,” can we stop and ask if such a person has actually read the story or if she or he is simply making up stuff to assert one’s own opinions?
In the biblical narrative Boaz marries Ruth—Ruth the Moabite. Ruth was not an Israelite, a critical clue in the narrative, if one is paying attention. To use Boaz to claim people should marry those who are like themselves is nothing but warping the story for purposes other than understanding what the biblical author may have intended.
Finally, can I say that assuming Boaz is a perfect catch while nodding to his elderly and economic status rings off-key in my mind?
When this author seems to say women should look to find someone older and wiser and well-off as the picture of all things “perfect” I wonder how Christian culture becomes so warped? Implying that women need a man to care for them is not only sexist it is the root of unhappiness and the cause for much pain. When young women grow up being told they are incomplete until they find a man they also hear an embedded message: you are not a whole person and you are somehow inferior. Being made in the image of God—apparently—only goes so far.
But clearly such a portrayal of Boaz misses the action Ruth takes to discover him. Ruth, not Boaz, takes initiative. She finds the field in which to secure food for herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi. She goes to the threshing floor and tells Boaz what she has in mind. Boaz simply responds to her instructions. He is compliant in her pursuit of him. I guess it is more convenient to tell women to be passive and easier to assert given our pervasive patriarchal leanings. We’ve not been encouraged to take Ruth and her actions seriously but we have been guided over and over to see Boaz as the dominant figure because he is male and in a position of privilege.
This prevalence of twisting biblical narratives to support one’s assumptions about roles and marriage and relationships is troublesome in at least two ways. First, that such dishonest work continues without correction and awareness results only when churches are obviously not teaching people how to read and interpret Scripture with any level of depth. And second, churches must be doing a fantastic job of convincing people to forgo thinking critically and thereby cultivating a life of faith. In both cases the result is the same: biblical illiteracy masquerading as God’s plan.
If someone wants to suggest the book of Ruth is good fodder for relationship advice I’d have to agree. But I’d look to Ruth as the one who has much to teach. And I imagine that if someone takes her journey seriously, they’ll learn it has less to do with finding Boaz and more to do with self-confidence, friendship, initiative, and some serious risk-taking.