Tough Times, Tougher Women – Horizon Zero Dawn and Flipping the Narrative on Loss (Ruth)

Let’s shoot straight… these are some tough times we are enduring right now.  Loss is coming at us in seemingly every possible direction right now…loss of health, loss of loved ones, loss of employment, loss of finances… the list could go on and on.  And in these tough times it is critical that we look at some of the challenges that have preceded us for direction on how to respond.  Or maybe, since this is a video game column, the future as well.  When the times get tough, the tough get going and I can’t think of too many protagonists tougher than Aloy, the heroine of Horizon Zero Dawn.  Talk about a world in turmoil… Aloy finds herself in the challenging circumstance of facing a hostile environment full of giant robots, crazed enemy tribes, and homicidal artificial intelligence opponents.  If you haven’t tried it yet, now is the time, because Aloy  definitely has a story to tell and a lesson worth learning.

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In a gaming world over-saturated with strong, powerful male characters, Aloy sets out to break through the glass ceiling and tell a tale of overcoming loss that would rival our old friend Kratos’s arc… minus the snarling and anger management issues.  And she is absolutely the star of her own show here, dispatching the giant robot dinosaurs that populate the landscape single-handedly while still finding time to unravel the conspiracy that plunged her world into a bizarre regression of tribal warfare.  I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t played, but suffice to say that during her sojourn she is going to lose a lot of friends the hard way and have more than her fair share of rugs pulled out from underneath her in the process.  Surviving her “pandemic” was just one task on her to-do list.

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So many of the stories we hear from the Bible are much the same as our video game plot lines… larger-than-life men like Noah, Moses, David, Joseph, Samson, and others being used mightily by God to save their land, their countries and at times the entire planet from complete destruction.  But there are also incredibly strong and determined women who refused to be just another “damsel in distress”, casting just as large of a shadow as they demonstrated how incredibly critical they are to the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation.  We are going to take a look into one such woman today… a woman who refused to be defined by what was in her history, what was in her bloodline, and all that she had lost and instead seized hold of the destiny the Lord had for her.  A woman named Ruth.

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The book of Ruth has an interesting duality to it… the most obvious view is that of a tender “Hallmark movie” tale between a kind, generous man named Boaz and the completely down-on-her-luck Ruth.  The only thing missing is the two of them opening up a coffee shop in a small town together as the credits roll.  While it begins to snow all over them, of course.  Because, you know… HALLMARK.  We can also look at it through the lens of an incredibly clear and apt analogy of the epic love story between God and His people, and it absolutely has that element as well.  And while this is all well and good for us, the reality is for Ruth this was not a story.  This was her REAL LIFE, and it for her it was neither romantic nor beautiful… it was just a lot of pain and loss.

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Ruth was not aware that someday her tale would be told in every form of media that exists today.  She certainly could not comprehend in the midst of her sorrow that she was destined to become part of the human genealogical lineage of Jesus Christ Himself.  It would not seem that way from a simple outside view.  Let’s start with her origin.  Ruth was NOT a Jew, the race of God’s chosen people born from Abraham in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, she was an immigrant descendant of Moab, a line of people born from the incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters after their escape from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).   Not exactly the typical background for a future ancestor of the Son of God, you would think.  It’s kind of tough to spin that story positively in a Sunday School class.  But in a family tree that includes the prostitute Rahab, the child born of the adulterous relationship between David and Bathsheba, and now the widowed immigrant Ruth, the picture becomes even more clear that when God chose exactly how He would personally enter the world He chose people who had experienced exceptional loss and lived to tale the tale.

So let’s start Ruth’s story out with the first of several sucker punches.  We catch up with her in a bit of a crisis.  Her father-in-law Elimelech, the patriarch of the family she had married into, had passed away.   This placed the full brunt of caring for the family on his two sons, which would have been just fine… except both of them passed away in short order as well.  Ruth was faced with a very grim reality with no happy ending in sight.  Now you may already know how her story ends, but Ruth doesn’t.  So do us all a favor and forget everything you know about this story and let’s just live it the way that Ruth had to.  She did not have the perspective of the future and was in an exceptionally difficult and life-threatening predicament here.  All the men of this story were gone, and this leg of the journey belongs solely to Ruth.

During Ruth’s era, society had set up some provisions for widowed women to prevent them from becoming destitute.  Specifically, the common practice was that her husband’s brother would now take the responsibility of caring for her.  And that would have worked…  except he had just died TOO.  So… bereft of her own husband as well as the typical arrangement of going to the next-of-kin for support, Ruth turned to her fellow widow and mother-in-law, Naomi, for guidance.  Naomi advised both of her daughters-in-law to return back to their original family homes and start their lives over with a new husband, which honestly sounded like pretty good advice.  Chalk this one up as a loss, go back home and start over, and hopefully this next one works out better.  It took some convincing, but one of her daughters-in-law sees the writing on the wall and conceded, heading back home and out of our story as well as historical significance forever.  When the going gets tough, back-tracking and abandoning those who need you is never a response that will be rewarded.

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Ruth declines the easier road and decides to tough it out with Naomi, answering her with this beautiful and poetic statement of commitment:

Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”

Ruth had a powerful way with words and convinced Naomi to let her come along towards an uncertain future for them both.  As Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth dove into the accepted practice for widows to gather food by gleaning the fields. There was no time for feeling sorry for herself and her horrendous circumstances… if she wants to eat tonight she is going to need to do something about it.

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As Ruth acts on her faith to provide for her as well as her mother-in-law, God steps in to begin the process of redemption with a phrase that I find humorous in its innocence… in Ruth 2:3 the Bible records, “She HAPPENED to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz”.  If there is anything that should be clear at this point, there is no “happen-stance” with God.  Ruth had placed her faith in God and in response He placed her in the exact position where Boaz, her “kinsman-redeemer”, had a field that was ripe for the gleaning.

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Now if you are not familiar with the concept of kinsman-redeemer, you are not alone, as it is not something that exists in our current culture.  But in those days, it was considered a responsibility of the nearest family member to take the widow of their family member as a wife to prevent widespread widow and orphan issues.  Keep in mind that the ONLY reason Ruth was even in a position to enjoy this act of redemption is because she first had to endure losing her husband, her brother-in-law, and her father-in-law.   And then, when the chips were down, she had to choose to follow her mother-in-law and the Lord in blind faith to this destination where this solution was waiting for her.

Boaz may have been a wonderful man, but let’s keep it real… he was NOT coming to Moab to look for Ruth.  To be fair, he had no way of checking Facebook to see if her “relationship status” had changed.  He was simply living his life in blissful ignorance of the role he was about to play in things.  If Ruth had stayed behind in Moab she may have found a new husband in the process, but not her DESTINY.  God had something far grander than a mere “replacement” in mind.  Through Ruth’s steadfast faith in the God who had allowed her to lose everything she was able to not only gain redemption for herself and her family, but she became grafted into the future redemption of the entire human race by becoming a human ancestor to Jesus Christ Himself.

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Consider that for a moment.  Her loss was NECESSARY to add her DNA to the solution for the sin problem afflicting all of humanity.  Ruth could have simply accepted her suffering on the sidelines and become a footnote in history just like her sister-in-law, and nobody would blame her for that.  But instead Ruth became the one of the few women in the entire Bible with a whole book dedicated to telling her story.  Her story of exceptional loss is what provided us with the Savior that redeemed us all.  And it all happened because she made up her mind that she would NOT simply take her ball and go home when the losses started piling up, but instead put her full confidence in a God she barely even knew.

So let’s jump to the grand finale for Ruth… after what may be one of the most unique courtships in all of recorded history we find Ruth and Boaz joining in marriage and sealing the lineage that would lead to King David and eventually to Jesus Himself.  The widow Ruth becomes one of the few women actually named in Christ’s family tree (Matthew 1).  If we take into consideration Ruth’s origin as a Moabite, the truth is that she started with the deck stacked against her in the first place.  So if you can relate to losing a spouse or a significant relationship, starting life from a cursed genealogy, or simply being a member of the wrong family at the wrong time, don’t worry.  God has your future covered.  He was and still is the only person who got to choose exactly who his family members were prior to birth, and it was an intentional choice to make the world’s redemption occur through those who would have been cast aside into life’s “damaged goods box”.

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Your entire situation may be part of a redemptive work not only for you, but for souls that won’t exist until thousands of years after you have come and gone.  Can you imagine Ruth’s surprise at realizing her tragedy that occurred in such a small, quiet little corner of the world would have such an amazing ripple effect throughout all history?  Or that she would become world-renowned for being little more than a helpless widow who put her faith in God?  Your story may differ in the outcome, but you are not suffering on the sidelines without God’s awareness.  Ruth’s story of loss and pain ended up in a total victory not only for her, but for all of mankind.  Your story may seem to be on the fast track to loss and pain, but for those of us who choose to love and follow God as Ruth did, we can have confidence knowing that all of these things will come together in the end to tell a story worth writing about that will one day inspire those who follow in our footsteps.

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