With the 2020 election closing in, tensions have been brought into sharp focus. If the first presidential debate was anything to go by, it would appear that we have been lead into a minefield of social, political, cultural, and moral turmoil as a result of our national leadership, and its opposition. Where will we end up on the other side of November? More to the point, where will we end up in the next decade, or even fifty years with the current trajectory? Unfortunately, time will only tell.
The fact is, there are deeply unsettling signs prevalent in the Church relating to our choice of media consumption, our political loyalties, and social ties which show the true estate of our hearts; we follow their wayward wanderings, far from the fold of our Father. We succumb to the cult of personality, or party politics. We clamor for security and supremacy from our earthly leaders and institutions, when what we need is a Righteous Ruler, One who will not turn away our hunger, cast us away in our neediness, resurrect dividing walls, or let the tears we cry go to waste.
As the days have bled into each other since the COVID-19 hit our country in the spring, followed by the political and social unrest brought on by racial injustice, we now look to elect a leader who will do what, bring a happy ending to it all? Where exactly has God been throughout all of this? He doesn’t seem to be moving in quite the ways we wish at the moment. How could all this have come upon us if God is in control? Psalm 2:2-4 says, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cats away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision.”
In the book of Esther, we encounter a king who goes to great lengths to show how great he is. His self-centered heart stands tall in his overindulgent drinking and feasting (1:3-8), in his objectification of everything he owns (1:4, 6), including his wife (1:11), in the childishness of his anger (1:10-12), and his inability to take responsibility for his own failures as a husband and leader (1:13-15). This is bolstered by government officials who will not hold him accountable, but choose instead to placate his ego (1:16-17), inflating the alleged disobedience of Queen Vashti to national crisis (1:18), and formulating a ludicrous edict of dethronement designed to make men great again in their own households (1:22), thereby causing the whole of the empire – who has no idea about the queen’s refusal – to become aware of it. The entire posturing and parading of the king and his puppet yes-men is laughable, and comic when the size and scope of the plot are considered. What could Scripture be speaking about in this opening chapter?
As if all that wasn’t enough, the king’s friends come up with a plan to ease the king’s apparent sorrow at his self-legislated divorce (2:1). They will have an empire-wide beauty contest, and the young woman whom the king finds the most pleasure in shall be made queen instead of Vashti (2:2-4). This of course pleases a leader like King Ahasuerus, whose own licentious lifestyle, consumeristic tendencies, and hedonistic living leave nothing for us to imagine. It is here, however, where we are introduced to Esther, a Jewess being brought up by her cousin (2:5-11), Mordecai, a Jew of some standing in the kingdom whose proximity to the king allows the foiling of a coup (2:19-23). So after twelve months under the regulations for the women (2:12), Esther’s turn with the king results in her elevation to the throne (2:17).
What exactly could the rise of this Jewish queen in the kingdom of Persia portend for the still scattered Jewish people throughout the empire? How could a kingdom ruled by the personality and driven by the whims of an extreme sovereign be inhabited by the people of God? And on that score, God’s absence is notable in the text which never mentions his name – not even once. What does this mean for the Church as we study this book? How do we find God in the words of the book of Esther?
Suffice it to say that the absence of presence, does not entail the presence of absence. God is everywhere present in the story of Esther. He works in the background through the historical acts which resulted in the Jewish people being scattered abroad (Esther 2:5-6). Yes, he used the sinfulness of his people to effect what we find in the story we are studying. He moved certain people into certain places of power, just for times like the ones we are reading about (Esther 9:4-14). He appoints people to rise so that his name might be made known throughout the earth, to bring glory unto himself – think Pharaoh and Joseph (Genesis 37-50), think Pharaoh and Moses (Exodus 9:16). He works through the moral and political failures of national leaders, even turning what they intended for self-indulgent excess and political gain to his own ends of salvation for his people (Acts 3:11-26).
If God is everywhere present, all powerful, and all knowing as we believe that he is, then the story of Esther shows how his providence works out in a world which is set against him (Psalm 2). The world which revels in licentious living, the lust of impurity, in drunkenness and orgies and the like, in power which only seeks to make more of the same, in a society where women were objectified, used, and abused, and in which the people find it acceptable because its leadership is bereft of godly character bespeaks the bankruptcy of their souls. Where are we in all of this? What comfort can we take?
We can take comfort in the fact that the kingdom of God has come in the person of our Savior, Jesus, who came among humanity to inaugurate his kingdom of justice, righteousness, and peace; it is surely here (Luke 17:21). But it is still future, when the “kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). This means that we cannot despair of a political party in power, and that we cannot hope in the same. No matter our political views and affinities. Though the kingdoms of this world, including the United States with its often times self-centered personality politics and grandstanding, and the bickering across party lines and smear campaigns are the rule of the day, they will all ultimately pass away when the Lord comes again. Our own enslavement to political power and prestige, our own addictions to winning at the cost of loving, and our tendency to seek all at the cost of our witness shows us how much we have exchanged the message of the cross for the comfort of influence. We have deified power and prestige, and objectified those with whom we disagree. But if we look to the Kingdom of God, we look for our eternal King, whose kingdom shall have no end. He is not absent, and he is not silent. He’s laughing and ruling even now.