Perfect Planning We may be caught in the whirlwind. No need to panic
Why is it that beauty pageants seem to bring out the worst in people? Who could forget the dreadful circumstances surrounding the death of six-year-old beauty contestant Jon-Benet Ramsay in the USA in 1997?
And what about the recent chaos in Nigeria over the hosting of the Miss Universe pageant? Religious tensions erupted. Buildings were burned, people were killed and havoc reigned until all 80 beauties boarded a plane for London.
Does God get involved in beauty pageants? Or are they simply worldly activities in which God plays no part?
It may on the surface seem a bit odd that as we open the Old Testament book of Esther, we encounter another beauty pageant of sorts. King Xerxes is flaunting his power and might. The most beautiful young virgins are brought from around the region to be prepared for a night with the king. The one who catches his eye and satisfies his desires will become queen. And it is here we meet Esther, a young Jewish girl, orphaned after her parents’ death, and raised by her cousin Mordecai.
Not everyone is agreed on how to interpret Chapter 2 of the book. There are many questions we could ask. What’s a nice Jewish girl doing in such an overtly sexual environment? How could she allow herself to be pampered and prepared for the sake of winning a pagan king’s favour through sexual means? Is she a role model, or should she have been prepared to die rather than have sexual intercourse with a pagan autocrat? Did she choose to be party to these events or was the choice made for her?
While these are not insignificant questions, the Bible is silent on them. Instead, we are invited to see how Esther’s growing faith responds to the providence of God. The personal story of Esther and the national story of God’s people are beautifully intertwined. Regardless of how she felt about it or whether she cooperated, Esther was at the mercy of a ruthless pagan king, just as her people were.
For reasons which are unclear from the book, Mordecai commands her to conceal her “nationality and family background”. Esther “pleases” the king and is crowned Queen. From this position of privilege, she waits upon the Lord and is able to enter the king’s presence with confidence. God uses her to save His people from destruction.
What an end to an amazing story!
We sometimes find ourselves in situations and circumstances that cause us to wonder at the ways in which God goes about His plans. While we know that the Bible assures us of God’s constant presence in the lives of believers, when we look around, it sometimes seems as though God isn’t doing as much as we would like to extricate us from the situations that entangle us. Innocent people get caught up in awful situations. We make what we believe are the best decisions at the time, and yet we are sometimes faced by outcomes that seem so devastating. A parent stops by the grocery store to buy milk, and walks into an armed robbery. A trusted spouse makes promises on a wedding day with little intention of keeping them. Employees with a mortgage and family responsibilities devote themselves to a company, only to be shown the door when the business must downsize.
Sometimes we ask ourselves, where is God? Does He get involved in secular circumstances? Is it simply a case of in the wrong place at the wrong time, or is there more to it?
The book of Esther offers some helpful insights into God’s providence and how He accomplishes what He chooses. Even though the name of God does not appear one single time throughout the book, we are left in no doubt that the protagonist is not Esther herself, but God. And we can find comfort and assurance when we find ourselves in situations we never sought out or planned for.
So, what does the book of Esther teach us about what we should do when we find ourselves in a crisis?
We can first think about God’s providence in the place and timing of our birth. As the Psalmist writes, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb ... All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13ff). Our birth is no accident and our birthplace is no random act in a chaotic universe.
God has also ordained the family we are born into. Esther was from the family of Kish, so she would have been accustomed to thinking about the role of providence in her life and the lives of her family around her. Keep in mind that Esther was from the tribe of Benjamin, a descendant of King Saul. While Saul’s house was destroyed, her line was one of the few that survived. In that sense God had shown great mercy to her family over generations. It is no small mercy to grow up in a home with pious parents who pray for and instruct their children in the way of godliness.
As God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways, we must rest in His sovereignty through all the situations we encounter in life. Sometimes God designs us for situations that we do not plan. As King Solomon writes: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” King David thought he would be a shepherd; Amos thought he could look forward to a comfortable life as a farmer. Neither of them counted on God having other plans.
As Charles Colson writes, God may be invisible, but He is also invincible. “When I pause long enough to look back, I realise it is the unsearchable mind, the unfathomable will, the sovereign control, the irresistible providence of God at work, because He, though invisible, remains invincible.”
We should also realise that God may select us for a special purpose. There are times in the Bible where we encounter people following God’s leading and yet being persecuted. Paul and Timothy received a call to go to Macedonia, yet their obedience to that call led to their persecution.
We should keep in mind that being in a bad situation does not mean that we are out of God’s will. Because of the unique position Esther found herself in she was able to save her own people’s lives and enrich the life of the king.
In the mystery of God’s will we sometimes come to a place where we cannot explain why things turned out as they did; yet, amazingly, we are still right in the middle of His will. It’s not that you or I created a problem; it’s that God is in the process of surprising His people on a regular basis, writes Charles Swindoll.
It is no accident that we find ourselves in the places and situations we do. God’s purposes and plans were determined in eternity past.
As Karen Jobes writes, “this episode from Esther’s life offers great encouragement and comfort when we find ourselves in situations where every choice is an odd mix of right and wrong. Only God knows the end of our story from its beginning. We are responsible to Him for living faithfully in obedience to His word in every situation as we best know how. Even if we make the ‘wrong’ decision, whether through innocent blunder or deliberate disobedience, our God is so gracious and omnipotent that He is able to use that weak link in a chain of events that will perfect His purposes in us and through us.”
And we can take comfort that the God who is able to do all things is also able to keep us from sin, even in the most appalling of circumstances. We are reminded again and again in Scripture that God is able to keep our feet from slipping (Ps. 94:18). He sometimes extricates us through catastrophic situations. While through our earthly life we only see “but a poor reflection as in a mirror”, one day we shall see in full. In all of life’s ups and downs, God is working to fulfil His redemptive purposes.