Reflections on Ruth: The Butterfly Effect

In my reflections on Ruth (this being the last one), I’ve described the characters as ordinary, imperfect folks who received extraordinary love from God. But Ruth is, ultimately, not remembered as an ordinary person, and her story is more than a tragedy that God turns into a quaint, happy ending. Boaz marries Ruth and they have a son. That son has a son and so on, and the book ends by telling us that Ruth was in fact the great-grandmother of Israel’s great king, David. 

King David came from a long line of ordinary folks, Ruth isn’t the only one. But she is one of only two non-Israelites we know of in David’s genealogy (excluding generations before Israel existed, of course), and therefore one of the least likely people to end up in that prominent position in history. And Ruth is not only an ancestor of David, Israel’s great king, but also of Jesus, Israel’s greatest king and our Lord and Savior (see Matthew 1). 

It’s easy to read the story of Ruth and think, “Well of course this amazing stuff happened to her, she was an ancestor of David and of Jesus!” As if Ruth had any inkling of that when she was alive! Ruth was blessed and rescued by God in her lifetime, but that didn’t make her wealthy, famous, or even able to read and write. Ruth was born an ordinary person, and she died an ordinary person. It’s only in hindsight that we see her as anything other than this.

The end of Ruth’s story is one of the many places in scripture where we see God’s “butterfly effect.” The butterfly effect is a scientific term that describes how minuscule, seemingly meaningless events can have large, wide-sweeping effects. Edward Lorenz described the concept by example, saying that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could, in theory, affect the path of a tornado which occurs weeks later. In Ruth, one woman’s decision to journey with her mother-in-law to a foreign land and gloomy prospects leads to the birth of the Messiah, God in the flesh. Who could have imagined or predicted such an outcome? Surely she couldn’t have, but God did!

So I don’t think the ending of this book is meant to make us feel distant from Ruth, as if she’s one of the rare exceptions and we’re unlike her. On the contrary, the fact that an ordinary, foreign-born woman ends up biblically famous is meant to point to God’s butterfly effect. No person is too ordinary, no event too small, for God to make something amazing from it. 

Ruth didn’t know, and couldn’t possibly have foreseen, the bigger picture God had in mind, and we often can’t either. We may never see what God is doing with our lives. We may never feel fulfilled in our work, never get the things we most want, and never know why God bothered putting us on the earth. But God answers the futility of existence with the promise of His butterfly effect. Anchoring our hope in Jesus is our ultimate purpose, and it’s this small act of faith that God can and will magnify in ways we can’t even imagine.