Esther: Living Faithfully in an Unfaithful Culture
Jan 24, 2020 · Courtney Jacob
Do you think it’s hard to be a Christian in today’s culture? Do you ever find yourself shaking your head at the news, wondering “How could God ever let this happen?” or “Does God even care about the awful things going on in the world?” Do you ever feel helpless, like you could never even make a shred of difference in such an unjust world?
If so, it’s time to revisit the book of Esther.
This story of a young Jewish girl who becomes queen of Persia and saves God’s people has a surprising amount of relevance and value for Christians today. In our Groundwork series, “Esther: Living Faithfully in an Unfaithful Culture,” Dr. Carol Bechtel joins our conversation to help us dig into this familiar story and find important truths about God’s presence and God’s providence in times and places when it seems he is neither welcome nor wanted.
New Appreciation for a Familiar Story
If you ever attended Sunday School or if you’ve listened to your fair share of sermons, you’ve likely already heard the story of Esther. Think about what you already know or what you remember. Which characters do you admire? How would you retell the events of the story?
I remember Esther from childhood sermons and Sunday School dramatization. Her story stood out because it’s one of the few biblical stories with a strong female lead. I also remember I felt excited when King Ahasuerus chose Esther as his next queen and then I rejoiced when Esther successfully interceded on behalf of her people to save them.
What I don’t quickly remember is the danger that Esther lived in. I don’t remember recognizing that as a child or feeling worried for her safety.
But Esther became queen of Persia in dangerous times. It can be easy to read the story of Esther through a modern-day lens, as a fairy tale story of ascent to royalty or an account of a pure-hearted beauty pageant queen. But Carol Bechtel reminds us that Esther’s context is vital to understanding the meaning and value of her story. Esther was extremely vulnerable as a woman, as a subject of the king, and as a Jew. She lived in a hostile context, as a minority with little-to-no power or influence.
Bechtel also encourages us to understand the style of the book of Esther, its genre, its place in history, and its place in scripture. Recognizing these factors unlocks for us a greater perspective on a familiar story.
Repeated encounters with biblical stories, like Esther, are essential for a solid faith. In her commentary Esther from the Interpretation series, Bechtel reminds:
“...there is something to be said for a long and loving relationship with a book like Esther. Its richness cannot possibly be appreciated in a single reading, but needs to be savored over several years and in several contexts. The book itself may stay the same, after all, but the readers will be in a different place each time they come to it. And there are not many places in life where we cannot afford to be reminded of God’s providence and our responsibilities” (p. 20).
Esther for Christians Today
The book of Esther offers us an example of how imperfect, yet faithful people can continue to live faithfully in a culture that does not acknowledge God (have you ever noticed that the name of God is not mentioned at all in Esther?).
Throughout human history, God’s people have experienced both times of great influence and power and also times of extreme hostility and even deadly persecution. Bechtel observes,
“It is one thing to live a life that is faithful to God when one is surrounded by a culture that supports such efforts. It is quite another to remain faithful in a cultural context that is not similarly committed and that, in fact, may be openly hostile to the life of faith. This is not news to Christians who live in places where persecution is a constant companion. It may well be news, however, to Christians who find themselves more and more the minority in a cultural context that shares fewer and fewer of their values. North American Christians, for instance, must deal daily with the tensions that arise between the Gospel and an aggressively individualistic, consumeristic culture” (p 10).
Reading and rereading Esther assures us that God is not oblivious to our trials. Esther helps us train our eyes to see God at work through faithful people in unfaithful situations. It also reminds us that as God’s people we have a responsibility to use whatever he has given to be his agents of justice in an unjust world, like Mordecai when he tells Esther, “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
See Where God is Already Working
I invite you to see God at work in the unexpected places of your life and of our culture through our Groundwork series, “Esther: Living Faithfully in an Unfaithful Culture”:
...and together we’ll find encouragement for living faithfully during our own experiences of vulnerability and embrace the assurance that God continues to work through the ordinary, faithful actions of believers today.