Here is my post from our class weblog for week 3 of our series in Esther:
During week three of our study in Esther, we considered whether there is any value in a “bible” story in which, on the surface, God seems absent.
Chapters 3-7 in Esther detail the story of the fall of Haman. Enraged that Mordecai, the Jew will not bow down to him, Haman convinces the King to enact a law that will result in the genocide of the entire Jewish race. He then boasts that his wealth and cunning has put him in an ideal position of influence with the King and makes plans to have Mordecai impaled on a pole.
Little does Haman know, however, that Queen Esther is about to reveal to the King that she herself is a Jewess, exposing Haman’s plot to destroy her race. When the King hears Esther’s story, he is enraged that Haman’s advice has led to the near-destruction of his beloved Queen and her family. Worse yet, he later mistakenly believes that Haman is attempting to molest Esther – and he orders Haman impaled on the same pole on which Mordecai was to be impaled.
In many ways, this story is typical of stories of God’s actions to preserve his people, particularly those who are in exile. Yet, remarkably, God – who is celebrated in the Purim festival as the central character in the story – is entirely absent from the narrative.
Where does God act in this story? We are only left to speculate. God does not speak. There are no miracles. No one prays or suggests that God is involved. To the contrary, there is confusion as to whether God is acting at all. “Who knows?” Mordecai tells Esther at a critical moment, “Maybe you came to your royal position for such a time as this.”
Is it possible that Mordecai’s uncertain speculation is a better reflection of our own experiences than those of Bible characters who clearly hear God’s voice and see his actions? Phillip Yancey says this:
The Bible models both simple faith and hang-on-against-all-odds fidelity. Job, Abraham, Habakkuk and his fellow prophets, as well as many of the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11, endured long droughts when miracles did not happen, when urgent prayers dropped back to earth unanswered, when God seemed not just invisible but wholly absent. We who follow in their path today may sometimes experience times of unusual closeness when God seems responsive to our every need; we may also experience times when God stays silent and all the Bible’s promises seem glaringly false.
At the end of class, we struggled with this question: How do we cope in situations when God seems absent? Some of us found renewed determination to seek out and pursue God’s will in every situation in life. Others found inspiration in the way these characters pressed forward despite evidence of how God was acting or what he wanted. In either case, however, we can be assured that we don’t have to “see” God acting in order for him to be present and active in our lives. God’s kingdom advances, whether we can see it or not.
Next week, we will look at the gruesome, but (for the Jews, at least) satisfying conclusion of Esther. Then, in two weeks, we will then conclude our study with a close-up look at the Purim celebration itself.