There was a time in my life when a homing signal might as well have alerted every thief, rapist, and murderer within 100 miles of my house to head my way. The alert always went out when I was going to be home alone all night. This is the only explanation I have for ritually flipping on all my lights and TVs and triple-checking my deadbolts at 3 a.m. when no one else was home. I still had three more hours of watch duty, but having taken these steps, I was convinced I had warded off any criminal activity. I could safely fall asleep.
I was forty years old and afraid of the dark.
Our Minds Will Believe Anything
Overtired sailors have stepped off their boats and plunged into the middle of the sea because their sleep-deprived minds imagined they’d pulled into port. They’ve endured attacks by “animals with sharp white fangs” which were actually harmless white lines on their compasses. They’ve drifted off to sleep with loved ones in their arms, only to wake up hugging sails from their ships.
No matter how convinced we are about the reality of our experiences, no experience can change the truth. Especially the Truth about God.
The Almighty’s Hand Is against Me
In the book of Ruth, Naomi’s dreadful experiences weren’t hallucinations:
- Naomi’s husband moved her and their two sons into the enemy land of Moab to escape a famine, where he then died.
- Her two sons took Moabite wives, and then they both died.
- She and her two widowed daughters-in-law were left destitute in a culture that didn’t honor women or widows, with no way to support themselves.
- Naomi returned to Israel empty. No husband. No sons. Not even a glimmer of hope. Just one daughter-in-law, Ruth.
When Naomi looked at her life, she determined the hand of God was against her (Ruth 1:20–21). She let her experiences, rather than the Truth, determine her perception of God. (I wonder how often her fears chased sleep away at 3 a.m.)
Naomi wasn’t wrong to see God’s sovereign hand on her life. But her interpretation of her experiences led her to a wrong conclusion about God. Dare I say a sinful conclusion. In true Garden of Eden fashion, Naomi doubted God’s goodness. But God, ever true to His character, responded to her doubt with compassion. With the love of a faithful Father, He did what He’d always intended to do. He sent Naomi a redeemer.
How can we learn to filter our experiences through God’s Truth to extract it from the mirages created by our human emotions, limited knowledge, and cultural influences? How do we protect ourselves from similar despair? Or drag ourselves out of the despair we’re in?
Strengthen Your Mind in Who He Is
In a 2015 interview of two well-respected pastors, the interviewer asked what they considered to be the Church’s greatest problem. One pointed to the modern Church’s serious inadequacy in biblical understanding, discernment, and knowledge about the nature and character of Christ. The other said, “We don’t know who God is.”
We don’t know who God is.
These pastors were talking about the Church. Not the world. The Bride of Christ today doesn’t truly know their Bridegroom. We can’t see all His glory now, but we have the ability to see a lot more than most of us do. We still don’t know enough about the things He’s already clearly revealed. But we can remedy that.
1. Look for God’s Names in the Passage/Chapter/Book
Names matter. Especially when they’re the names God uses for Himself. His names reveal some aspect of His character.
Using a good concordance, look for each time a name of God is mentioned in the passage, chapter, or book you’re studying. If you like modern technology, I recommend BlueLetterBible.org (BLB). You can find the definition of the names or name phrases in the original Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, among many other tools.
If you’re studying the book of Ruth, a quick reading reveals three names of God used in the four chapters: the LORD (eighteen times), God (3 times), and the Almighty (two times).
Using the Tools button on BLB, we see in Strong’s Definitions that LORD (Yahweh) is the name God uses when He’s displaying His self-existent, eternal nature.
God (Elohim) expresses He’s the One True and Supreme God. There is none above Him.
“The Almighty” (Shaddai) means what we imagine: almighty, most powerful. Naomi called God “the Almighty” twice in chapter 1 while describing the bitter events of her life and attributing them to His being against her. I can’t speak for her, but too many times I’ve grumbled at God for not using His almighty power to remove my trials.
2. Note the First Mention of God’s Names in the Bible
After we know the definitions of the names of God used in the passage, chapter, or book we’re studying, we cast our net wider. Looking for the first mention of those names and the surrounding context can often be helpful.
Context is king. What’s going on in the scene and in the ancient world the first time a name of God is mentioned? Read the whole chapter, and, when necessary, the chapters before and after to understand the full context.
What does God reveal about Himself?
The word “God” is used in the ESV Bible 3,810 times. (I’ll wait here while you look them all up. Just kidding!) “God” appears in the first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It reveals God as the All-Sufficient and Supreme One, the Creator and Ruler over all.
The “LORD” makes its first appearance in the second chapter of the Bible, combined with His name “God.” Genesis 2:4 begins the account of the LORD God fashioning Adam out of dirt and building Adam a bride from his rib.
What is God teaching us through this? What is He revealing about Himself?
We see in this chapter the Self-Existent, Supreme Creator LORD God (Yahweh Elohim) who wants a relationship with man. Nothing and no one could complete God or add to Him. He’s complete within the Divine Trinity. Nevertheless, the LORD God created man to be in relationship with Him.
It’s a humbling and awe-inspiring Truth that God doesn’t need us, but He wants us.
Seven times in the first chapter of Ruth alone, God is called the LORD—the LORD who doesn’t need Naomi but wants her.
How would it change your life if you believed and acted on the Truth that the LORD doesn’t need you, but He wants you?
The first time we see God’s name “the Almighty” is at Jacob’s deathbed (Gen. 49:25). He’s blessing Joseph, his son who suffered more than any of his other sons. Yet, at the proper time, the Almighty lifted Joseph to power in a foreign land over a nation who neither acknowledged nor worshipped Him.
3. Compare Scripture with Scripture
In our last step, we cast the net even wider and look throughout all of Scripture. Where else do we see these names of God used in the Bible?
After the book of Ruth, the next time we see God called “the Almighty” is in the book of Job. It’s used thirty-one times. It seems almost ironic that “the Almighty” is linked to the lives of three of the most unfortunate people in the Old Testament. Three people who desperately needed a powerful hand to rescue them.
This is no coincidence. Since God was intentional with every word in the Bible, what is the Almighty teaching us through this? What is He revealing about Himself? Among other Truths, we see that God, in His kind wisdom, allows the unthinkable to happen to His children in order to display His great power for His glorious purposes through those who trust in Him.
I wonder, as Naomi journeyed to Moab and back, what did she know about the life of Joseph and Job? If she knew their stories, what could she have set her mind on to remember about them and their God? What did Joseph and Job know and believe about God that could strengthen Naomi’s mind whenever her experiences tempted her to feel abandoned by God?
How would you interpret your experiences differently if you fully trusted in the name of the Almighty—the LORD God who’s promised never to leave or forsake His children?
Know, Trust, and Sleep in Peace
God has given us everything we need in order to know His names and to trust in what they say about Him. It’s never been easier to learn about His names because of the amazing technology that surrounds us. And those who know His name—really know it—will trust in Him.
Those who know your name trust in you
because you have not abandoned
those who seek you, LORD. (Psalm 9:10 CSB)
After a lifetime of being afraid of the dark and months of studying God’s names, I made a choice late one night. I was all alone, and it was time for my usual “homing signal.” But this night I bolted all the doors, turned out all the lights and TVs, and reminded myself of the names of God. I meditated on the Truth of who the LORD God Almighty is and chose to believe the Truth, not my feelings. I had come to know His name, and so I drifted off to sleep. Finally, for the first time, I spent the whole night alone, sound asleep in the strong arms of the name of God.