Monday, October 9, 2017

Thoroughly Modern Esther

Esther is one of the most interesting stories in all of the Bible. And what makes the story of Esther so interesting is what makes it so unique: Alone among the 66 books of God's Word, Esther...makes no mention of God at all. 

That comes as a shock to most, who are generally familiar with the story and know it to be about living a life of faith in a difficult time. It comes as a shock to those who know that this book tells the story of how Purim, a yearly Jewish festival, came about. How can this story of such faith and this foundation of a beautiful Jewish holiday not mention God at all? How did the story of Esther become so great when it is so quiet about God Himself?

Yet, it's kind of what most of us are hoping for our own lives. 

We're living in a world where we're surrounded by Esthers; we may even be one ourselves. We've come to this place where we're pretty sure that our faith doesn't have to be loud, that we don't even have to bother to mention God at all. If we just live basically good lives and do basically good things, and sometimes, perhaps, even largely meaningful things, then this is all that God requires of us. 

We don't have to become preachers, we say. We don't have to be throwing God's name around. We don't have to let others know that this is where we find our strength, value, meaning, etc. It's not important that we make a billboard of it or even make clear that the story we're telling is a Christian story. Anyone who is paying attention should just "get it." They should "just know." 

Perhaps in the introduction to our lives, we tell them we're Christians - just one little sentence, just so that they know. Or maybe at another point, we say a Christian word or two. It doesn't have to be in context, and we don't have to really live it out, but maybe we talk about going to church once. Or maybe we say that we "prayed" about it. Yeah, that's probably enough. That should make sure that people "get it." 

It's contextual, you know? We know that Esther is a story about God because, well, it's in the Bible. You can't get much clearer than that. It wouldn't be in the Bible if it weren't trying to tell us something about God. 

I've got a Bible on my coffee table. You can't get much clearer than that. I tote around my coffee in a mug with a church logo on it. That's pretty clear. There's a cross dangling from my keychain. Do I have to spell it out for you? 

Let me be clear: although it never mentions the name of God, Esther's story is undeniably a story of faith. 

Ours, not so much. 

There is a fundamental difference between the way that Esther's story is told and the way that we so often try to tell our own: at every point, the devout faithfulness of Esther's life is woven in, even to the smallest detail. Just as we can look at the grand narrative of Esther's story and determine that it's probably Jewish, we can begin with the minute depths of her story and know that it is. 

Most of us can't say that about our Christian witness. We're hoping that others are looking at the grand narrative. We're hoping that the hints we're dropping here and there are enough. We're hoping that they never try to dig into the depths of our story and find something Christian about it...because we know that they probably wouldn't. 

We're going to look at Esther's story - and ours - this week and see where they are different. Because there's tremendous value, I think, in what Esther has done. And the problem is not that we can't live Esther stories; the problem is that we aren't.

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