The story of Esther takes place during one of those disenchanted seasons of life which we all inevitably endure, often more than once. Those times when God labors in obscurity rather than notoriety. Those periods when God’s presence is hard to perceive and his schemes are difficult to spot.
Yet it was nonetheless a time when an orphaned Jewish girl became the queen of a godless nation, the superpower of the ancient world. And there was only one explanation for such an unlikely vocation elevation–God.
And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. (Est. 2:16-17 ESV)
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther…“who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:13-14 ESV)
From this lofty locale Esther saves the Jewish race from genocide. She along with Mordecai rescue their people from extinction at the hands of the Persians. In the long run, Esther, as much as anyone in the Bible, makes Jesus’ birth possible. Without Esther, Jesus’ lineage would have been snuffed out long before Mary and Joseph showed up, long before Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.
And how did this nobody gain the throne of Persia and thus the power to save the Jews and thus secure the path for the birth of Christ? A careful reading of the book, this book that never uses the word “God,” reveals that all along God was intimately involved in all that was happening. Even when godless people were playing at the role of God, even when the clouds of suffering blacked out the light of hope, even when no fingerprints of God could be found with even the strongest of magnifying glass, God was in play and at hand.
God performed without visions and voices from heaven. He engaged without miracles and mystical appearances. God did it all in the midst of the most secular people and through the most secular means possible.
Here then is the basic claim of Esther: Even when God seems awfully absent, he is profoundly present; and even when God seems decidedly dormant, he is astonishingly active. Even from the remoteness of the backstage, God accomplishes more than we can ever imagine. Even from the darkness of the storms, God can be more intimate than we can ever fathom. The disenchanted seasons of life are periods when we learn new ways of seeing God’s work and experiencing God’s presence. Esther reveals that spells of disenchantment are not meant for depression but for celebration. For in them we discover the beauty and adventure of disclosing the clandestine movements of God.
Esther’s people celebrated this in a feast called Purim. Purim was the antithesis to Passover. Passover lauded those times when God worked in extraordinary ways, miraculous ways, and in supernatural ways that few could deny. Purim memorialized those times when God worked in much more ordinary ways, far less miraculous ways, hidden and invisible ways that most could easily miss. Yet even those, especially those, were worthy of a party.
This is why in the worst days of World War II, Jewish inmates of Auschwitz, Dachau and other camps could write the entire book of Esther from memory. This is why they would read it in secret and celebrate Purim covertly in concentration camps. They wanted to testify to their conviction that even there, where God seemed awfully absent, he was profoundly present. Where God seemed decidedly dormant, he was astonishingly active. And his secluded steps were still worthy of celebration.
For those of you going through a dark valley, a tough crisis, a painful time, Esther’s story is your story. Even in the very worst of times, when some oaf of an overlord was taking over the world and had taken over her life, Esther lived a story that said God was powerfully at work. And no matter what seems to have overtaken your life, God is still at work. No matter how absent he seems, he is still present. No matter how dormant he appears, he is still active. And that’s worthy celebrating.
Consider this summary of Esther by Karen Jobes:
“The book of Esther is perhaps the most striking biblical statement of what systematic theologians call the providence of God. When we speak of God’s providence, we mean that God, in some invisible and inscrutable way, governs all creatures, actions, and circumstances through the normal and the ordinary course of human life, without the intervention of the miraculous. The book of Esther is the most true-to-life biblical example of God’s providence precisely because God seems absent.”
I won’t speak for you, but the life I live is one in which I rarely see miraculous things happening. God usually works through the normal and ordinary course of human life for me. God’s movement in my life is more often invisible and inscrutable than stunning and surprising. But this is providence. This is how the hand of God works in the course of human history.
Ultimately, Esther urges us to give thanks, to give thanks for our Esther story, to give thanks for seasons of disenchantment. There is a tendency within contemporary Christianity to think that if we’re not living out the book of Acts in our lives and in our churches, if we’re not experiencing the stories of Exodus in our lives and in our churches, something must be wrong. “Why don’t we have that kind of relationship?” we may wonder. But what Esther shows is that those stories aren’t the only norms for life with God. Esther is another norm. God’s at work just as powerfully in an Esther-life as he is in an Acts-life or an Exodus-life. If you find yourself living in a season or a space when it’s hard to find God because things are secular or routine or filled with suffering, trust that just as he was in Esther’s life, God is present and active in your life. Give thanks to God. Don’t pine away wishing you had a different story, one more like Acts or Exodus. Give thanks for your Esther story. Because even when God seems awfully absent, he is profoundly present; and even when God seems decidedly dormant, he is astonishingly active.