There's so much darkness. Horrific acts of terrorism are taking place around the globe. There's a disturbing amount of racism still rampant in our country. The political climate is a nightmare. Many people are losing their jobs. Meanwhile, death doesn't care about current events--it's still snapping its jaws around the people we love. All of this (and the rest I didn't even bother to mention) is unsettling to say the least.
Where is God? Has He forgotten about us? Has He left us here all on our own?
These aren't theoretical questions. They're deeply personal. Many of us are trying to make sense of the chaos all around us. Fear and anxiety tend to fester in me during these dark times. I often try to deal with it by just ignoring it all, but that kind of self-protecting response isn't good enough. I'm desperately fighting to be honest. As I am, I'm forced to confront the hard question: "Where is God in all this darkness?"
As I wrestle with this, I'm finding something immensely helpful in the book of Esther.
This Old Testament book is unique. It’s the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God--not even once. This is so strange that there have been people who’ve argued that this book shouldn’t even be included in the Bible. I, for one, am very glad that it is. It doesn't fail to mention God, as if that was some kind of impious oversight. On the contrary, it doesn't mention God by name for a reason. I think this is intentional.
By taking this silent approach, the story of Esther communicates something about God in a subtle yet powerful way.
It’s a brilliant piece of storytelling. It’s a drama that involves tyranny, extravagant drinking parties, dehumanizing treatment of women, heroic courage, twisting irony, and a near holocaust. As we read this dark and riveting story, we get the sense that something is at work that we can't see. There is something behind the scenes driving everything forward.
The Jews are in a dark place. They've been taken from their destroyed homes and are living in enemy territory. A wicked man named Haman has a law written to annihilate all the Jews because one of them named Mordecai refuses to bow down to him. The king doesn’t care what kind of violent law is being written in his name. At best, he’s indifferent to the violence happening in his empire. Meanwhile, a beautiful young woman (who just so happens to be a Jew) is made queen and thereby is in a position to influence the king. In what seems to be coincidence after coincidence, the plans of the wicked are turned on their head through the courage of this heroic woman. Throughout it all, we can’t escape the sense that there’s an unseen Power guiding everything that's taking place.
This fascinating story of Queen Esther highlights the unseen hand of God in the world.
This is why I find Esther so helpful, because how God is at work in the world is so often hidden from our eyes. It just doesn't make sense to us. We can relate to the Jews during this chaotic period of their history. They don’t know what’s going to happen. They don’t know the ending. They’re in the middle of the story, just like we are. They’re terrified. They’ve already experienced great suffering. Where is God? Has He forgotten them? Will He save them?
Esther invites us to trust God in the darkness.
This story invites us to see that God is present and active in this world, even when it's hard to see. This takes a great amount of trust. When the Jews were surrounded by so much darkness, they didn't hopelessly sit in fear or despair. Instead, they responded by crying out to God for deliverance. They dared to hope that God would somehow save them. Even though everything was dark around them, they found a way to trust in God. This gives me hope.
Trusting God doesn’t mean that we just sit on our hands and do nothing. Esther had an active kind of trust. She put her very own life on the line in order to save her people. She acted in faith that she was placed exactly where she was for a reason (see Esther 4:13-14). Esther was willing to risk her life in the belief that she could be used as an instrument to bring light into the darkness around her. When she did this, she asked Mordecai and the rest of the Jews to fast for her. She was pleading with God to take care of her in this dangerous act of faith. As terrified as Esther must have been, she was still able to trust God in the darkness.
Esther’s heroic faith reminds me of Jesus.
The story of Esther doesn’t mean that we get to escape suffering. It doesn’t guarantee that all will work out well for us in this present world. It didn’t for Jesus. He endured awful suffering, and yet He trusted His Father to take care of Him. When He faced the worst of suffering on the cross, He “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus was able to endure such injustice because He trusted that His Father would vindicate Him.
This is what Jesus invites us into: to follow Him by trusting God in the darkness. This kind of trust in God is powerful. It has a redemptive effect in our broken world. Salvation came into the world precisely because Jesus trusted His Father in His darkest hour. What could happen if we find a way to trust God in the darkness?
So, how do we really trust God when we can’t see Him? How can we learn to do this on a more practical level?
Here are a few ideas:
- Learn from David how to pray. David asked God some poignant questions, such as: “God, why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” What is even more significant is that the Holy Spirit inspired David to record these prayers as part of Scripture. God inspired these prayers. He's giving us freedom to be honest with Him. There is something deeply transformative about learning how to pray real, honest prayers. Read and meditate on texts like Psalm 10, 13, 22, 43, and 77. Ask God your real questions.
- Listen to good songs. “Again” by Jon Foreman is a powerful prayer to the “Father of history” (you can listen here). This song helps me to trust God. It reminds me that He has been involved in this world all along. It helps me cling to our hope that God hasn’t forgotten us. Songs like this can help us find faith in our God who is present and active in this world--in the One who’s directing even the course of world history. It helps to hear someone else share their struggle to cling to God in turbulent times. Sometimes songs say it best.
- Battle anxiety with thankfulness. A simple, powerful way to fight fear and anxiety is to make a list of thankfulness. All you have to do is write down one thing each day that you’re thankful for, whether it’s big or small. The goal is for us to become more aware of God’s provision for us on a daily basis. The more we see the good gifts God gives us, the more we're able to trust Him. This is a tangible way to become the kind of people who “have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3). To dive deeper into this idea, see our blog post How to Stop Worrying.
- Ask your real, hard questions in your HUB group. Our HUB groups are a safe place for us to be honest. We don’t need to put on a façade. As there’s something transformative about praying really honest prayers, there’s also something powerful about sharing our real questions with one another. This is one of the ways that we make God’s grace tangible to each other. We can help each other wrestle with how to follow Jesus, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Don’t remove yourself when you have hard questions. Don’t run away when you can't see God. This is exactly when we need each other the most.