The story of Esther is stunning in its providential beauty and hope. Despite God never being named, the book bearing a Jewish Persian Queen’s Gentile name—a wonderful twist of biblical irony—is received as Scripture, as God’s very speech. Esther is God doing sign language. God writes himself out of the story, but not out of history. The I AM receives no cameo. No token merci, gracias, danke or thanks is given the Almighty. God is silently active.
Uncle Mordecai’s poignant challenge (Esther 4:14b) to his queen-niece is oft recited: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” That’s a moving question. That dog will hunt. Them there words will move you to the core.
There is, however, a subtle danger in hinging the praiseworthy courage of Esther on these words. It can leave deliverance in human hands. Somehow we will do it. The story without God risks becoming a “Yes we can!” fairy tale. Were that the case, it would never have been received by Jewish or Christian tradition as Scripture. Hence, the story’s power, although revealing Esther’s courage, must find its source elsewhere.
Back up a few lines before Mordecai’s question and hear this: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:14a).
We could say fear of impending doom was the key motivator in Esther’s risky breach of Persian protocol. But, again, that misses the point and makes the story a human yarn. Look more closely. Mordecai confidently articulates the sure hope of deliverance. Salvation will come for the Jews. It does not depend on Esther; she simply has the providential responsibility and privilege of right place and time. Deliverance depends on the unseen hand. Esther can either be swept along or be swept away. Rooted in her trust in the Lord as the “one who delivers,” who acts and is acting even when it seems he is conspicuously absent, Esther steps into the gap.
Many are bemoaning the demise of the church. We get all overcome with emotion over what we can do to deliver ourselves from extermination, sure that salvation rests in human ability rather than God’s action. We risk writing a story that is not worthy of being called tradition in the long run.
God is a deliverer. He is always acting and stirring. He is always providential even when his silence screams. He is acting now. He is presently transforming lives, neighbourhoods and congregations. He is birthing new movements of the Spirit. He is on the move. Jesus said the gates of hell will never prevail against his church.
The question is whether or not we, as one strain of the Christian tradition, will stand on this confidence and join God in another wave of his gracious acts, or will he need to use someone else who will join him even at the risk of perishing. Have we become so confident in our own ways, comforts, religious systems and supposed wisdom that we will simply drift into the archives rather than be present participants with the providential deliverer?
Will we, as church planter and pastor Ed Stetzer, author of the LifeWay Research Blog, asks, “be the groups that reach postmodern culture, or will God have to bypass us and use others?”
Phil Wagler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is praying for the gift of understanding God’s sign language and the courage to step into the fray come what may.