Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Scratching the Surface of Esther
A seminarian was sleeping during class; so the professor slammed his hand on the desk and screamed this question, "So what do you think about it? How can the Bible say we have volition yet are predestined?"
The startled fellah blurted, "I knew yesterday but forgot."
The professor lamented, "What a pity. The only man who knew and he forgot."
One of the most annoying paradoxes of Biblical faith - two Biblical truths in apparent contradiction that have generated more heat than light in classrooms, assembly halls, small groups, coffee conversations, and wherever two or three are not always gathered in His name - is we have volition yet are predestined; or changing it around to the same conclusion, we are predestined yet free to choose.
Moses and Joshua urged, "Choose life...Choose who you will serve..."
Jesus said, "I stand at the door of your heart. You must decide if you will open the door..."
Paul concluded, "For those God foreknew, He also predestined."
Putting the paradox together, Paul admitted with gratitude for God's providential care of those who trust Him here and now and forever, "We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan."
We have volition yet are predestined.
We are predestined yet free to choose.
Whatever way we look at it/Him, it doesn't sound logical; which, of course, reminds us that He is Source, Starter, Sovereign, and Savior and we are not.
Fortunately, as the Psalmist applauds Him, God as Source, Starter, Sovereign, and Savior works through the paradox for our benefit: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken."
Though fully grasping this paradox is out of our reach, a celebrating sense is God's predestination is always positive for those who trust Him; yet there is the sobering sense that we are completely responsible for the consequences of our volition or freedom to choose for good, bad, or...
Really, I don't get it/Him.
All I get is it's always best to trust Him and pray and labor to do the right thing as modeled by Jesus in the manual of Holy Scripture.
The story of Esther comes to mind.
She was predestined for her moment in His story ("...made queen for such a time as this...") yet she had to choose to be used for her moment in His story ("I will join you...I will go...If I die, then I die!").
Let's go to the story that illustrates the paradoxical mystery.
It reads like a gothic novel, soap opera, or new mini-series for FX or AMC.
The incumbent Queen Vashti disobeys an order from her husband King Xerxes to be paraded around like a trophy wife, loses her crown, and a Persian beauty contest is held to find her successor.
The young and beautiful Jew Esther beats out the other contestants, wins the king's heart, and becomes queen.
Older cousin Mordecai, who had adopted Esther after her parents died, is a big part of the story because he told Esther not to divulge her ethnicity because of Persian prejudices epitomized in the story's scoundrel Haman who was "promoted to a rank above all his fellow nobles" and ordered Mordecai to bow down before him in homage. While Mordecai worked for the government and thwarted an assassination conspiracy against the king by two eunuchs who "were angry over some matter," his faith as a Jew prohibited him from showing such worshipful deference to anyone in keeping with the first few commandments of the big ten.
This infuriated Haman so much that he decided to knock off Mordecai along with every other Jew in the empire: "Haman wasn't to be satisfied with killing only Mordecai..."
Never underestimate the bloodlust of people who hate people who love God.
When Esther caught wind of how Haman had tricked the king into issuing a death penalty for all Jews, predestination ("...made queen for such a time as this...") and volition ("I will join you...I will go...If I die, then I die!") merged as she risked her life by approaching the king without invitation ("...any person who approaches the king...without being invited is sentenced to death. That's the law!") to gain attention as the first step to intervening on behalf of Mordecai and exposing Haman's evil character.
It worked: "The king was pleased when he noticed Queen Esther...[He asked]...'What is your request? I'll give you anything...all you need to do is ask...'"
Essentially, she asked for two parties to set up Haman's demise before he could do any damage to the Jews.
I said this story reads like a gothic novel, soap opera, or new mini-series for FX or AMC!
And it gets even more complicated as the king has a bad night between parties, can't sleep, goes over some government papers, notices that he hasn't rewarded Mordecai for saving his life, asks Haman what to give somebody who has done great service for the king with Haman thinking the king is talking about him as he suggests a robe and horse, and then orders Haman to take one of his robes and horses to Mordecai to express his appreciation in a reversal of fortune as he is now forced to pay homage to someone who wouldn't give it to him.
While I don't know for sure, which is kinda like figuring out most gothic novels and soap operas and mini-series on FX and AMC, the first party seems to have been set up to keep Haman off guard while the second party is when Haman learns about the consequences of messing with God's chosen people:
King: "What do you want, Queen Esther? I'm willing
to give you anything."
Esther: "All I'm asking is for you to spare my life
and the lives of my people."
King: "Who has targeted your people?"
Esther: "The man responsible for these actions is
wicked Haman. He is vile, and the enemy to
Report: "Haman has prepared a 75-foot pole for
execution...He was hoping to use it to hang
Mordecai, the man who spoke up and saved
King: "Well, hang him on it!"
Report; "So they took Haman and killed him and
displayed him on the pole that he had made
ready for Mordecai."
Esther had risked her life to save her people as God's predestination and her volition came together to honor Him and help her/His people.
One last thought.
Esther is the only book in the Bible that doesn't mention God by name; proving, as a missionary once said, "A life lived for Jesus speaks louder than any verbal testimony."
Let me put it another way.
Esther shows how behavior confirms belief and belief determines destiny.
Or as I once heard, "What's deep in the well comes up in the bucket."
What a person does is more convincing than what a person says.
Esther proves being Godly can be seen without being said.
...to be continued...
Blessings and Love!