Christianity 201

June 26, 2019

Heart Cries of Perplexity, Not Rebellion

This is our sixth time with Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline. I hope you find this article challenging as I did. It originally appeared under the title and link below.

Talking back to God

The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. Esther 9:6

The Jewish festival of Purim (Esther 9:26) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in Persia, some 500 years before Christ, from the evil plans of Haman. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I read that in synagogues even today “every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the Purim liturgy congregations respond with loud banging, shouting and stamping of feet, and ‘Haman’s hats’ (triangular cakes) are eaten…”.

Great fun, I’m sure. And nothing wrong with that.

But the reality at the time was pretty grim. Esther 9:6 tells us of the deaths of five hundred men in Susa. And a few verses further on (9:16) we read that, outside Susa, some seventy-five thousand people were killed. Hmm… this was a big-scale massacre, and it’s hard to read about it without something of the gloss coming off the story.

Two questions come to my mind…

First, how is this kind of whole-scale vengeance compatible with the spirit of Jesus?

The simple answer is: it isn’t. Jesus, the “prince of peace”, told his followers to “love your enemies”, and prayed “Father, forgive them” for the people who crucified him. So from a Christian perspective, the aftermath of the Haman plot leaves a slightly nasty taste in one’s mouth.

It’s true, of course, that if this hadn’t happened, the bulk of God’s Old Testament people would have been wiped out: it was a dog-eat-dog world, and even God’s chosen people couldn’t help but be a part of it. The coming of Jesus was still a long way off. But still…

It’s not for us to judge or condemn the Jews of Esther’s day – we must bow to the justice of God, trusting that he knows what he is doing throughout history, and be thankful that we live in the days since the earthly life of Jesus.

Thanks be to God, though, for the clear-cut command, Do not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath… (Romans 12:19).

(Is that text a direct word to someone reading this?)

How radically and wonderfully Jesus changes everything!

The second question puts a rather different slant on the Esther story: if God could raise up an Esther to influence King Xerxes, why not another “Esther” to influence Hitler and his people?

That question rattles around in my mind because I have recently been reading various books about the Nazi horror – and there’s no doubt that the more you learn the worse it gets.

There are those who would say that we shouldn’t even ask the question. You may be one of them – and, indeed, there’s a large part of me that feels the same way. Paul’s challenge haunts me: “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God…?” (Romans 9:20). Who indeed?

And yet there is an honorable Bible record of people who did “talk back to God”. The “Why?” question crops up repeatedly in the psalms – for example, 10:1, 22:1 and 88:14. The remarkable book of Job is full of it. So is the little book of Habakkuk: “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (1:3); “Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13).

Supremely, of course, we have Jesus himself, who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

It seems that God respects and honors those who, out of genuine anguish of heart, cry out to him in this way – always assuming, of course, that our hearts are humble and that our questioning reflects honest perplexity rather than rebellion.

We need to accept, too, that we’re not likely to receive an answer in any theoretical, intellectual sense. No, God does not offer to satisfy our curiosity, however genuine.

But the great thing is this: the honest questioner may very well get something far, far better than that – a whole new experience of the glory of God. Just contrast the endings of Job and Habakkuk with their beginnings! – in both cases a journey is made from confusion, frustration – even anger? – to radiant faith. Above all, contrast the glory of resurrection morning with the darkness of the crucifixion!

No, I don’t know why God acts in one way at one time, and in another way at another. I don’t know why he seems, from our perspective, to stand by while terrible things happen. But I do know this: that his ultimate purpose is to banish all evil from this beautiful world that he has made.

And when that day comes I suspect we will all want to say with Job: “I am unworthy. How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4).

Not a bad place for it, I think.

Lord God, your ways are shrouded in mystery, and the question “Why?” is often on our lips. Help me to be humble even if indignant, and submissive even if angry. And so bring me to that day when all my questionings will fade on my lips. Amen.

March 16, 2019

The Cost of Trust

This article is taken from the first half of a longer article with two subsections titled ‘The Cost of Trust’ and ‘The Benefits of Trust.’ It’s from a site we first introduced here six months ago named My Olive Tree. Click the header below to read the entire article.

Purim: Trusting God

The Cost of Trust:

We all know of the story of Esther, or Hadassah, as was her Jewish name…

Of how she, the cousin of Mordecai, was taken to the palace with dozens of other candidates for the position of queen, due to her beauty. How she, by the grace of God, was chosen to take the place of Vashti and hid her identity. How, even when the king had not called for her for some time, she went before the king to petition the life of her people—the Jews. Of how she risked death because she trusted in her God… because trust was all she had.

This story, while containing many pieces—many ways it can be unpacked—has one thing at its heart…

Trust.

Faith in action.

Not only with Esther, but all the Jews of Persia!

They all turned to God in that time of jeopardy. They remembered God’s promises and help from generations past and decided to act. They decided to trust.

They prayed to God; fasted; and many, such as Mordecai, even put on sackcloth and ashes.

They trusted that God was the only answer. That their faith and love of Him would be rewarded.

Yet, it was Esther herself who had to bring forth the greatest show of trust…

She prayed and fasted, as did all of her people, yet she knew she was going to be at the greatest risk—and, unlike her people, she was making that choice. Many of her fellow Jews might be able to flee. Indeed, as the decree for their destruction was but proclaimed for one day, perhaps some could simply hide and hope for the best…

Yet, Esther was going to plead for her people. She was going to go before the King of Persia unannounced—surely to die should God not soften the king’s heart toward her. She was choosing to trust in God’s power… in His faithfulness.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3: 5,6

What a test of trust that was. What a symbol of Esther’s devotion.

We can imagine the scene…

Walking to meet the king, guards preparing to kill her as the king had yet to hold out his golden scepter. Only her trust in God could have kept her going. Only her faith in His goodness and mercy.

Her legs surely felt heavy as she walked toward the king; how her heart must have beat wildly despite her trust.

Swords being drawn, the king seemingly immobile and not ready to act as her courage so beguiled and bewildered him.

Yet, God softened the king’s heart. He caused him to remember her kindly; to remember why God had prompted him to choose her… and he held out the scepter. He spared her life.

But, even then, was Esther truly safe with Haman so close… as she invited the king and Haman to dine with her?

Did she still not have to trust in God that the king would hear her petition? Did she not have to trust as she revealed her heritage, identity, and very people… a people destined by law for destruction?

It was an act of trust to invite the king and Haman at all… let alone two times as she and God prepared the heart of the king further still.

She trusted God with her life… the lives of her people… her future and that of generations to come.

It cost her to trust God.

By trusting in Him and not herself, she directly placed herself in danger…

The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” — Daniel 6:16b

Dictionary.com describes the definition of trust as:

  1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
  2. confident expectation of something; hope.
  3. confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit

Esther relied on God’s goodness, His strength, integrity, and surety to help His people. She was confident in His love for His people, and hoped in the unseen… in a future where God would act. She had a confidence in the covenants that God had made with His people, and was assured that He would make good His promises.

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”—Numbers 23:19

 

…continue to part two, The Benefits of Trust… (scroll down to header)