A series of posts looking at famous Bible people and how they’re a bit more like us than we may imagine.
It’s not that I don’t believe that God does dramatic things; it’s not that I haven’t had times when it feels that God is so close to me I could almost touch Him; it’s not that I believe that God’s closeness to me is dependent on my goodness. It’s just that I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a normative sense of God’s presence in the Christian life. There can be times – maybe illnesses, job losses, money problems, bereavements and the like, when God can seem far off. What do I do when the omnipresent is nowhere to be seen?
If there’s a book in the Bible where God seems absent, it’s the book of Esther. It’s a cracking read, rollicking along at a pace Lee Child would be proud of. The story it tells is one of thunder clouds on an ever-nearing horizon. Men manipulating and mistreating women, acting out of pride and territorial entitlement. Ethnic cleansing not only threatened, but marked indelibly in the diary. Manipulation and scheming. Not only is God not mentioned, not even once; He seems far off from the dark quotidian reality of sex, power and death. If there’s ever a time when one’s going to feel as if God is absent, it’s when you’re in Esther’s shoes. Used by men for sex, she and her people the Jews are facing extinction. There’s no miracles, no prophetic words, no mention of God’s name. Has God left the building?
No. He’s directing events, pushing His people into centre-stage, just where He wants them. Queen Vashti was the original Queen, dismissed by King Xerxes for having a mind of her own and not coming running when he beckoned. Insolence amongst wives across the nation was feared if news of this got out. A weak man dealt with a strong woman by pushing her out of the way. But in Esther another rose to take her place. Esther finds herself, through the misogynist actions of a king, in a place where she has a chance to have his ear and save her people from his threats of death. She’s beautiful inside and out; God doesn’t look at outside appearance, He looks at the heart. It’s Esther’s courageous heart that God uses; but King Xerxes is far from God, so all he’s interested in is Esther’s body. Both her courage and her looks are what we might call ‘natural’ gifts; they’re not the supernatural gifts of prophecy or healing or tongues we sometimes focus on. But they are what enable Esther to win a hearing from the place she gains in the king’s court. All this makes her God’s person in God’s place at God’s time. The most famous verse in the whole book is the one that comes closest to mentioning to God’s name, hinting at His presence behind the scenes:
who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)
God may not be mentioned by name, but He’s there, asking Esther to act on His behalf. Does God seem absent? Have you stopped uttering His name? Does His action and His guidance seem far away? Trace the story of your life; see how He’s been at work behind the scenes. What are you ‘naturally’ good at? What makes you come alive to do? What do you often get complimented or thanked for? Who knows, maybe God has arranged for you to be where you are now, for such a time as this? Maybe you are the bearer of God’s presence for which you yearn so much.
I preached a version of this a couple of days ago, around the time a homophobic terrorist was killing partygoers in a Orlando nightclub. A hate-crime on a frightening scale. This is the worst-case scenario of many gay people, image-bearers of God, around the world. People I know by name are today scared. If it can happen in Orlando, it can happen here. The threat of extinction lies heavy in the air.
For such a time as this?
Also in this series:
These posts are based on a series of sermons