We live in a culture where unbelief seems to be on the rise, and I was interested to read recently of one reason someone rejected the faith. Bryan Gregory relates the story in his book, Inconspicuous Providence, The Gospel According to Esther – it’s the account of a roundtable discussion of four scholars in The Journal of Biblical Archeology Review:
“Of the four participants, two had kept their faith and two had lost their faith. In their discussion, one of the scholars who lost his faith put it rather bluntly: ‘I think that faith has to have substance. But once you start putting some substance onto that, you get into trouble. Faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition has a God who intervenes. That’s what the Exodus event is, that’s what the crucifixion is: it’s a God who intervenes, and when I look around this world, I don’t see a God who intervenes.’” – Inconspicuous Providence, The Gospel According to Esther, by Bryan Gregory
If God is really there, then shouldn’t we see him work? I’m not seeing anything, the man is saying, and therefore the conclusion is obvious: He isn’t really there.
Looking for God in All the Wrong Places
The scholar, I discovered in the footnotes, was Bart Ehrman, a self-proclaimed one-time follower of Christ who now writes a book every other year or so to debunk the Bible and thus, among other things, show people that God isn’t really there. And while the process that Ehrman went through to throw in the faith towel was surely more complicated than the quote above, I’m still left wondering if he gave much consideration…to Esther, the Old Testament book which Edgewood will begin studying this weekend.
Esther, if you didn’t know, is one of two books in the Bible that fascinatingly, never mentions God. (The other is Song of Songs)
And, as Gregory writes,
“The vast majority of people today will see their own experience in Esther, much more than in many other books of the Bible…Most people today live in a world that looks a lot like Esther’s, where events and situations show no obvious or blatant action of God in the midst of them…Events do seem to be driven by historically explainable forces of politics, economics, psychology, and sociology. Life does seem to be governed by human choices and natural processes. By most people’s accounting, that is simply how the world works, and because it is, it is also easy to understand how many Christians end up being more or less functional deists….
“Where is God in all of this? Why does it seem as if he is absent? If he is real and present, then why is he so inconspicuous? When life becomes unbearable, when evil is advancing, when suffering becomes intolerable, why doesn’t he intervene in noticeable and obvious ways?” – The Gospel According to Esther by Bryan Gregory.
It Just So Happened…
Why indeed…is God so inconspicuous? The answer in Esther is beautifully subtle, because as Gregory points out, when we walk through the pages of this delightful story (it’s a narrative masterpiece), we encounter a host of events where we are left saying with delightful surprise…“it just so happened”.
For instance, the misogynistic king deposes his first wife Vashti for not parading herself around at his bequest, and it “just so happens” that the lovely Jew Esther is chosen in her place. Later, her godly cousin Mordecai “just so happens” to overhear a plot against the king. And perhaps in the most famous “coincidence”, one night the king can’t sleep and it “just so happens” that he asks for “the book of memorable deeds” which reminds him of what Mordecai had done in foiling a plot against him. The point is that Esther’s story is full of such “coincidences”, and all these events drive the plot forward until Esther’s mediation before the king ultimately leads to the salvation of God’s people.
If that concluding storyline above sounds familiar…it should, and now that we’ve recognized some familiarity, all the “it just so happened”s of this book, well…let’s just say that they sound familiar too.
And reading and studying this great Old Testament story, I’m reminded that I’ve got quite a few of those “it just so happened”s in my life too. And if you look with the eyes of faith, maybe you’ll find that you do too.