Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Parallel Universe...Theology and Not Sci-Fi

I realized early this week that as I was reading over the weekend I skipped the book of Ruth, so I went back and read it.  Every time I read the book of Ruth I'm impressed by how risque it is.  It's a very down to earth book about right-less women doing what they need to do in order to survive.  Naomi returns home in disgrace, and old, bitter woman.  Ruth gleans the dropped wheat for food, letting Naomi convince her that seduction is a completely valid approach to marriage.  Boaz uses business savvy to procure a wife.  It's an interesting book.

Most people are unaware that there is a controversy regarding the book of Ruth, and it all revolves around the meaning of the word regel.  The Hebrew word regel has two meanings.  The first is "feet," so when Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz's feet after the harvest feast and she does it, she could have been taking off his shoes.  Something along these lines is what I was taught growing up (technically I was taught that Boaz was in bed, so Ruth just rolled up the covers.  This was somehow seen as a sign of servitude.).  The second meaning for regel is "private parts," for a PG rated translation.  Well, I'm guessing you can see how that changes everything as far as what Ruth is attempting to do with Boaz.

Over the years I've seen quite a few different reactions when people first hear this.  Many people, especially with conservative leanings, find this suggestion outrageous, if not heretical.  That is not the type of thing the Bible would condone!  (I've always found this reaction strange considering the book of Ruth follows Judges, which ends with rape, murder, near genocide, and kidnapping.  What's a little seduction compared to that?)  People have literally lost their tempers over such a suggestion.

What I want to suggest is that such a response is rooted in a false concept of God.  Western religion is heavily influenced by both gnosticism and deism.  Gnosticism (warning, this is an oversimplified definition) is the idea that the physical and spiritual are two separate things.  More over, all things spiritual are good, all things physical bad.  The direct implication of this is that God cannot stomach us.  God, spiritual, is repulsed by the universe, physical.  To sound juvenile, God thinks sex is icky.  Therefore, there is no way in heaven or earth that God could be present or work in a situation like Ruth trying to seduce Boaz.

Deism sanctions the idea of a supreme being, but only a distant supreme being.  Deism's god is a god who built the universe like a clock, wound it up, but then stepped back and let it go.  Deism's god is distant, far away, aloof.  The implication of this is that God is not in the thick of things.  He never gets his hands dirty.  Ultimately, we are on our own and God will not work with us (for us, in us) to bring about our good or his will.

There is, however, a third option, an option shown to us in the incarnation of God's son.  For the lack of a better term, we'll call this incarnationism (theologians would call this "incarnational theology," but why use the proper term when I can make one up?).  Incarnationism proves gnosticism false because in Jesus we discover that we are not divided beings.  We are not flesh and spirit, we are fully human.  Jesus was not a divided being.  Jesus was Jesus, fully human, fully divine, not degrees of both.  In incarnationism we find that God is not repulsed by our existence.  God does not, in fact, find sex icky.  He did, in fact, make it and call it good.  Such a statement does not suggest that seduction is the best, or even a good, use of sexuality, but it does suggest that God can, by nature, be present where seduction is present.

Incarnationism also shows deism false.  God is not far off and aloof.  He is, in fact, stepping in all the same crap we step in.  Not because he has to, but because he wants to be near us, to walk with us, to be in us, and knee deep in muck is often where we find ourselves.  God will get his hands dirty.  We are not alone, and God will work to bring about our good and his will even if that means working with poor or desperate decisions like attempted seduction.

Most Christians I know tend to think of God as somehow above us, unreachable and beyond us.  Instead, I would suggest that God is along side us, but that something has gone wrong.  The "along side us" that God intended got broken, and so what was once one has now become in some way parallel universes, tracking along side one another, but dissected.  Is that not exactly what we find happen from Genesis 3 forward?  God has never been absent from our reality, but we have often times walked away from his.  Bringing the two together seems to be the ultimate work of God.  Is this not what Jesus prayed for when he said, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?"  Is this not what early Christians looked forward to when they spoke of a new heaven and earth that would come together as a bride and groom?  Is this not what we caught a glimpse of when Jesus came back from death on Sunday morning?

In the mean time, God works within the messes we give him.  If that means two desperate women who are running out of time and hope decide to seduce a man in the hope that marriage might result, then God will work with that.  I don't see how this makes God look like he is sanctioning seduction.  It simply shows how fallen things have become that two women would be in that situation to begin with, and how far God is willing to go to try to turn things around.  So for me, I'm going to stick with the idea that Boaz's regel was not his foot.

Stopping point: Ruth


  1. Very interesting. I think often people have the mistaken belief that if something good comes out of an action, then the action was good in the first place (I believe this is called pragmatism). However, it is far more reassuring to know that we have a God who can turn even "bad" actions into something good.

  2. I totally agree. It's great that God uses good decisions to bring about good, but frankly I can do that. What I want to know is if he can use my screw ups and still bring about good. Now that's something. Luckily, that's exactly what stories like Ruth tell us.