Where’s God?

Where’s God?

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10 and 9:20-22

If you think the Bible is boring, you need to read Esther.  It’s an action-packed story of drama and betrayal and heroes and villains.  It’s so good, it’s worth recapping the whole book.  But as I do, you have a job:  I want you to listen carefully for when God shows up.

Ready?

It starts with a King who has a huge kingdom, stretching from India to Ethiopia.  This King holds a 180 day banquet (yes, 1-8-0).  When it was supposed to be over, they invited more people and kept on partying for 7 more days.  Festivities like that are fun but they don’t always encourage good decision-making.  Like what the King decides to do after his 187-day banquet:  call for his Queen so he can parade her around like a pet in a dog show.  The Queen doesn’t want to be a dog on parade.  She refuses.

The King is outraged.  So are his consultants.  “All the women are going to start standing up to their men!” they say.  “You better make an example of your Queen!” they say.

The King takes the crown from his Queen as punishment.  And so begins a sort of first season of The Bachelor, as young women are gathered from all over the kingdom for a year’s worth of spa treatments that will make one of them King-worthy.  A Jew named Mordecai encourages his adopted daughter to play the game… and as soon as I tell you her name, you’ll know who won.

Esther.  Make that:  Queen Esther!

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Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus, Paolo Veronese (1556)

Right around the same time, Mordecai overhears a plan to assassinate the King.  Given his new family connections, he now has a way to report this activity.  Mordecai tells Esther and Esther tells the King – and the assassination is thwarted.  Mordecai is a hero!

(Don’t forget what you’re listening for:  the moment when God shows up.)

At this point, our bad guy enters the scene:  a prideful little man named Haman, all puffed up on the power of his position with the King.  Haman is the kind of guy who wants everyone to bow down to him.  Our man Mordecai is the kind of guy who won’t bow down to one of the King’s flunkies.  Haman is outraged, and decides to get revenge in the overreactive way of prideful little men:  killing not just Mordecai – but all Mordecai’s people.  And who are Mordecai’s people?

The Jews.  The Jews are on the verge of a holocaust.

Mordecai is tormented, as he should be.  Haman has already gotten the King to send letters calling for the Jews to be killed.  How can this be stopped?  Eventually, talks with Esther.  “Maybe you made your way to the throne for just this reason,” he says.  “Maybe you can stop this.”

But remember what happened to the first Queen when she tried to stand up to her husband.  This is not a King who can be easily told what to do.  Esther’s going to have to slow-play this, and there’s not much time.  She invites the King and Haman to a banquet, and at that banquet she asks them to… come to another banquet, where she’ll finish buttering them up and make her real request.

The clock is running out.  Can Queen Esther save the Jews?

(And don’t forget:  you’re listening for when God shows up.)

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Three Scenes from the Story of Esther, Sandro Botticelli (1470-1475) 

Meanwhile, things are getting worse for Mordecai.  Haman is unsatisfied with how little Mordecai appears to be tormented about the potential annihilation of his people.  Haman wants to make things even worse for Mordecai.  He starts building a gallows with Mordecai’s name on it.

But the King has Mordecai’s name on his mind for a totally opposite reason.  He wants to thank him for stopping that assassination plot and saving his life.   And when a King needs help brainstorming, he turns to his advisers.  So he asks Haman, “How do I honor a special man?”  Haman – being a prideful little man – assumes the honor will be his.  He suggests all sorts of great things: robes and a crown and a parade!  And then the King turns the tables on Haman:  “Wonderful!  Go do all that – for Mordecai.”

Haman’s rage is white-hot.  The gallows are ready.  The letters are sent.  He’s ready to kill Mordecai and all the Jews with him.

Thankfully, it’s now time for Queen Esther’s second banquet.

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Ahasuerus (Xerxes), Haman, and Esther, Rembrandt (1660)

On the second day of this second banquet, the King is full and happy.  The moment is just right, and Esther makes her true request.  “I’m a Jew!” she reveals.  “Save my people!  Save them… from Haman!”

And just in the nick of time, the Jews are saved!  Esther is a hero!  And nasty old Haman?  He is hung on the very gallows he built for Mordecai.

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The Triumph of Mordecai, Sandro Botticelli (1475-1480)

Now – is that a good story, or what?

It’s got heroes and villains, scheming and plotting, drama and revenge.  It’s got just about everything you’d want – except for one, glaring omission.

Did you ever hear God in the story?  Ever, at all?

No.  God’s name isn’t mentioned.  No one goes to the Temple.  No one prays to God for help.  No one even follows the Jewish dietary laws.  Zip, zilch, nada about God.

Which begs an important question:  Why is this Godless story in the Bible?  

People have wrestled with that for millennia, sometimes straight-up objecting to Esther’s inclusion as Scripture.  If the Bible is a holy book, a means of encountering and learning about God… then how do we meet God in a book where God is never mentioned?

But the truth is:  finding God in Esther is a lot like finding God in life.

Our God isn’t Haman.  Our God isn’t a prideful little man demanding people to bow.  God doesn’t coordinate every traffic light or redirect our every move with lightning bolts.  Our God is secure enough to give us freedom.  God gives us space to choose, space to act, space to believe.  Which is a gift – but sometimes that divine space can feel like a complete absence.  We can run through our days without thinking about God.  We can react to our lives much like we do to the book of Esther:  It’s a good story, but where is God in it?

God is there, in our stories.  Not named, not obvious – but there.

In Esther, there’s a kind of providential coincidence that points to the possibility of God’s involvement.  If the King hadn’t rejected his first Queen… if Mordecai hadn’t nominated Esther for the crown… if Esther hadn’t been picked out of all those women….  If all that hadn’t lined up just right then Esther wouldn’t have been able to stand up for her people at the right moment.  Mordecai even names it:  “Maybe you became the queen just for this.”

Maybe all that coincidence was more than just coincidence.  Maybe God had a hand in it, after all.

When I look back at the story of my life, I don’t see God orchestrating every little thing.  But I do see some moments that are so coincidental, so providential, so important that I can’t help but wonder:  Was that God?

Listen carefully to your own story.  Listen for when God shows up.  Listen, especially, to your own highly coincidental moments:  when you met your spouse; when you got into college; when you made a big move; when you got an important job.  When things came together in just the right way at just the right time… was it coincidence?  Or was God there, working quietly but confidently behind the scenes?

Your life is a good story… and it has an Author.

Listen.

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