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Nov 25, 2010

Waiting on the Mysterious Will of God

Waiting on God’s promises in the story of Esther

Recently, in Sunday school, we read and studied the wonderful story of Esther and how God once again saved his people from destruction. Though this is a familiar story, our teacher pointed out something which I had not fully appreciated before, yet which is extremely comforting for me to remember after recent events in my personal life. But first, to the story of Esther and today’s ah-ha moment. Our fine instructor and elder pointed out that the villain in the story of Esther, Haman the Agagite, was a remaining descendant of the Amalekites, the archenemy of the Israelites since the days of the Exodus when Amalek fought against Moses and Joshua. He also reminded us that God had cursed the Amalekites and had promised to wipe them out entirely at some point in the future. See Exodus 17:8-16 and Deuteronomy 25:17-19 where God twice promises to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Our instructor suggested that the hanging of Haman and his ten sons may have been the final fulfillment of this promise and the end of the Amalekites once and for all.

God fulfilling his promises and bringing his holy will to completion is not what caught my attention in this story. I fully embrace God’s sovereignty and know that what he wills he will also do. But what surprised me in the story of Esther and continues to amaze me in my own life is how God chooses to work through the hearts, motives, and actions of fallen humans to bring about his holy and good will for the world. In so many cases, God actually uses the sinful schemes and impure motives of men to bring about good for his people and the world in general. While we are all responsible for our actions and motives, God supersedes and uses them to accomplish his righteous will.

In the story of Esther, all of the characters involved displayed a variety of selfish, sinful, or at least, less than righteous motives for their actions. In just a mere ten chapters we read of pride, lust, rebellion, jealously, hatred, deception, boasting, plotting, murder, and revenge. Even the heroes in the story, Mordecai and Esther, seem to be guilty of subtle deception (not revealing that they are Jews) and possibly some bloodlust for revenge. At best, their purest motives seem to be self-protection and concern for the lives of their fellow Jews. What seems to be absent from the entire story, at least from my modern sensibilities, is grace, peace, and forgiveness.

Yet, it would seem that God uses every character in this story, every historical turn of events, even every apparent “coincidence” to finally accomplish something he had promised generations ago, to protect his chosen people and finally destroy one of their oldest enemies. This is one more lesson and reminder of the faithfulness of God’s word. He will keep all his promises and will accomplish all his sovereign will, eventually.

Remembering this is good, but where it gets tough for me is living in the midst of the story, not knowing how God is going to end it. All the events of Esther seem to take place in a relatively short period of time. After just a few dinner parties and secret meetings, the tables quickly turn on the villain and in great irony he ends up having to publically exalt the man who was snubbing him and ends up hung on the giant gallows he constructed in his own back yard to hang that same man he was trying to kill. On the larger scale, Esther and her uncle use their favor with the king not only to save themselves and their people, but to gain license to annihilate over 75,000 of their enemies throughout the kingdom. No one in Esther’s story had to wait very long to see God’s justice worked out in their lives.

Waiting on God’s will in our lives

But for most of us, we have to wait a little longer. We don’t quickly or as easily see God’s great plan for our lives and often have to endure injustice and trials indefinitely, waiting for the end of the story where we can finally see God’s will fulfilled. Sometimes, we don’t get to see everything resolved in our lifetime and may even die with questions unanswered and wrongs yet unresolved. We know and trust that God has it all under control and desires the good for those who love him, but we don’t always get to see how exactly he works it all out, certainly not in the timeframe we would desire. It’s in these in between times in our lives, while God’s final story for us is still being revealed, that our faith is most tested and yet most needed.

I’m still in the midst of a sad chapter of my life, and I have no idea how it is going to turn out. Last week, my 16-year old son, my firstborn and very beloved son, finally called me after not speaking to me for over a year and a half. While just hearing his voice was a relief and blessing, his reason for calling me was not. He was calling to tell me that he was moving to New York City to join a prestigious dance company and was asking me (demanding actually) not to interfere with or take away this “great opportunity.” He declared to me that he was now an adult and had every right to do what he wanted, without my interference. I know that while I may have a legal right as his father to object to this, and perhaps should, I also know from experience that I couldn’t get a court date for the next year and most likely wouldn’t get a decision which would prevent this. I also know that as I still hope and pray for restored relationships with both of my sons, interfering with their “dreams” of fame and fortune would only hamper those chances. So as much as I fear for my son’s best interests, his safety, and even his spiritual well-being, I reluctantly let him go.

Waiting on my prodigal sons

In the last few years I must have read the story of the prodigal son dozens of times. As my sons have been pulled away from me and eventually refused to see me or even take my phone calls, I have read that story for comfort and guidance. I’ve read it to see how the father dealt with a son leaving him and potentially even walking away from God. I’ve studied the story to see what else the father was supposed to do while waiting patiently for his son to return. I’ve also gained insight as to how to deal with the frustration of the child which remained. For a time I had one son staying with me while one was gone, and even today still have a step-daughter who deals with her brothers leaving her too and watching her step-dad trying to hold it together for her and her mom but knowing that I am heartbroken every day. But it wasn’t until this last week, as my beloved but headstrong and deluded son demanded my release to go off to the big city to seek his fortune and happiness, that I really understood how the prodigal son’s father felt.

Fortunately, while my story is not yet played out, God gave me this encouraging story in the scripture, complete with a happy ending. With that hope in mind, I told my son once again that there is nothing he could do or anywhere he could go that would change how much I love him. I assured him again that when he comes to his senses and realizes what he has lost, I will still be here for him with open arms and loving forgiveness. Until then, I look forward to the day when he returns to me and to God and I will declare, “he was lost and now is found!“

There is another profound and comforting word from God in Ephesians 1:8-10:
“With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Yes, God’s will is mysterious at times, at least to our finite minds. We don’t always understand what he is doing in our lives and often struggle to see his greater purpose in our suffering. But I trust in my heart that “when the times reach their fulfillment” that my merciful and loving God will “bring unity to all things.” I pray that will include restoring the loving relationships I once enjoyed with my two wonderful sons, whom I still love and miss very much.