To See God Anyway

To See God Anyway

There’s a common Biblical word that is conspicuously absent in the book of Esther. The word is “God.” Yes, God is not mentioned a single time in the entire ten chapters of Esther. In one way, Esther is a kind of Exodus story – the Israelites finding themselves embedded in a hostile foreign nation and experiencing deliverance. On the other hand, the complete absence of any mention of God makes it a quite different tale than the Exodus which is marked by frequent direct interventions by God (the burning bush, the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea), as well as frequent conversations between God and Moses. When we read the book of Esther, when we see the severe distress she and her people are put through, there is no talking bush to point them in the right direction, no parted body of water to lead them out of the hostile nation. In Exodus, there’s a miracle around every corner. In Esther, no miracle comes.

But this is what makes the story of Esther a perfect story for us. I fully believe in miracles, that God can and does intervene in the world in ways beyond what we consider technically or logically possible. That being said, we live our lives day to day and year to year and do not encounter talking bushes or magically parted bodies of water. We live by faith and prayer through holy community. When we are afraid, mistreated, confused and heartbroken, deliverance does not come by way of a grand, dramatic miracle, by way of faith, prayer and community.

The drama of the book of Esther centers on the attempt to diffuse a hostility that nearly turns into mass murder. In chapter 4 Esther and Mordecai confer to discern what must be done. Esther initially resists the role of intercessor to the king on her people’s behalf. But Mordecai says, “If you keep silence at such a time as this, deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Esther replies, “Go, gather all the Jews in Susa (Persia’s capitol city) and hold a fast on my behalf.” (Esther 4:14-15) While God may not be mentioned here, fasting is, and by extension, prayer. Surely, they must be praying to someone, right? And for a story that refuses to mention God, Mordecai sure does seem to easily sense the hand of God at work, gently pulling the story in the right direction. An act of deliverance may be delayed, but not denied, he says. Perhaps Esther has been thrust into this situation (against her will), he says, because there’s something special and deeply consequential about this moment in history. Something just outside the story seems to be having a large effect on the story.

The book of Esther has a beautifully unique way of showing us who God is and how God is active in the world. Most likely, it won’t be a talking bush that tells us exactly where to go and what to say. But by faith (trusting a mysterious God) and prayer (openness to God) and community (partners in joy, grief and discernment), we will participate in the story that God is gently pulling in the right direction. This is why we pray and gather, so that when the miracle doesn’t happen, we will see God anyway.


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