Friday, August 20, 2010

August 20

OT: Esther 8:1-10:3

It's odd--this is our last day of Esther, and so apparently there are only three verses in verse 10. It's weird that I hadn't noticed that before.

To my defense, though, I probably hadn't noticed it b/c I think my childhood Sunday school classes glossed over the last three chapters of Esther. I have firm, detailed memories of the story until Haman gets killed, but then it gets fuzzy (or at least it did, before I did that Beth Moore Bible study). Because of that, I always think of Esther as a nice, neat story, but actually, it is quite messy. For one thing, it turns out that you can't reverse an irreversible order. And for another, King Xerxes is apparently incapable of fathoming the pain of others, or caring about anyone but himself. After he kills Haman (and gives all his stuff to Esther), he apparently thinks that all is well and good, despite the fact that a race of people are still doomed to annihilation. Esther has to intervene yet again, and obtain permission for Mordecai to write a new edict. Although he cannot change the original edict, he can give the Jews permission to fight back.

And fight back they do. Apparently, as the months pass until the two edicts go into effect, the Jews gain a lot of psychological momentum, to the point where they completely have the upper hand on "doomsday." They ravage their enemies, and then Esther asks for another day to continue the killing. Yikes! Afterward, the days of their victory are made into a national holiday for their people.

Oddly, reading this story today made me sad more than anything else. So much killing and carnage came from the hatred of one person. Or two people, if you believe that it was Mordecai's hatred for Haman that kept him from bowing. Because of the power of their positions, the personal hatred of Haman and Mordecai snowballed to the point where thousands of people died. And along the way, Esther was able to step in and bring more justice to the situation, but you could even argue that that justice was flawed. I mean, why ask for an extra day to kill?

I guess my thoughts today wandered to "big picture" proportions, and I saw the whole, sad story as a microcosm of the state of the world. Our view from down here is so fallen and flawed, that often, the best we can do is eke out some limited measure of justice from irredeemable situations. A parent abuses a child, and we take the child away and throw the person in prison. We call that justice. But is it justice for the child, who is still just as damaged, and now has no parent? Is it justice for the broken abuser, who was probably abused him- or herself? No, but it is the best we can do. Or on a national scale, we win a war and celebrate, much like the Jews in today's reading. I'm thinking of World War II, for instance. We overcame the Nazis--wasn't that great? Yeah, I guess it was. It was the best we could do. But really, the whole thing was sad. So much death. Did victory over the Nazi's bring justice? How could it? How do you bring justice to that situation?

And from that same, distant perspective, I look at the "justice" that the Jews obtained over their enemies. And I guess it was good that they stopped their oppressors. But really, from this distance, the whole thing is just kind of sad to me.

Another reason that I see this story as a microcosm for our world is that God is never mentioned. The people are left to figure out as best they could what God would have them do. "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Mordecai asked Esther. Who knows? Not them--they could only guess. They could only pray and do the best they knew. And yet, you do see the hand of God working. He works through the flawed, messiness of man, but He is there, guiding people and events. As Christians, we have faith that He is still guiding history, as messy as it may be.

NT: 1 Cor. 12:27-13:13

My childhood preacher (he of the "little toe" illustration from yesterday) was the first to point out to me the continuity between Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts in chapter 12, and the famous "love" chapter. And it is cool to realize that love is a spiritual gift, as much as teaching or prophesying or healing or speaking in tongues. In fact, it is better than all those things. Paul segues between those gifts and his discussion of love by saying, "But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way" (12:31). I like that phrase, "the most excellent way." It's very Bill and Ted-ish, but it also puts love in its proper place. Love is the most excellent way. You know all those cliches: Love makes the world go 'round? Love is the answer? Well, it's almost like the Bible is the same way. God is love. The greatest command is love. Love is the most excellent way. Wow--love really is the answer!:)

The first three verses of chapter 13 firmly establish love as supreme among all talents and acts. What really gets me is verse three. The idea that it is even possible to give away all your possessions and lay down your life for God blows my mind. Is that possible, or is Paul just trying to make a larger point? I tend to define love more by actions than feelings. And so, if someone is loving others in actions and in truth, if they are giving their possessions to the poor and are willing to die for God, then can't they set their heart at rest in God's presence (1 John 3:18-19)?

In verses 4-7, Paul gives a laundry list of the characteristics of love, all of which are wonderful. At different times, I have been attached to different characteristics, but my current favorite is "love always protects." My childhood preacher (who has apparently been my seminal spiritual influence, judging from all my references to him) talked about this verse at my wedding. He explained that when you are married to a person, you grow to know more about them than anyone else. As such, you become keenly aware of their weaknesses. And you can use that knowledge to expose their weaknesses to others, or you can protect them. Greg and I both have weaknesses, and I am so thankful that he doesn't expose mine, nor I his. Instead, and without negating the importance of personal growth, we have grown to cover each other's weaknesses. In so many ways, we make up what is lacking in each other. And that's always what I think of when I think of "love always protects."

The last third of the chapter focuses on the ultimate triumph of love, which will last even when all else passes away. I especially love verse 12: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." As a borderline-obsessive lover of knowledge, I cannot tell you how gratifying this verse is to me. I love the KJV's wording of the poor reflection. It says that we see "through a glass darkly." I think of that phrase often as I ponder my own confusion here on earth, and especially as I have thoughts such as the ones I had today, regarding the story of Esther.

Psalm 37: 1-11

David is so calm today. So reflective, so full of faith. He tells us not to worry when bad things are happening around us. He tells us to commit ourselves to God, and that God will take care of us. I love all that. And I love this psalm. It gives me a lot of hope. I also know, though, that David can attest to the difficulty of remaining calm in crisis situations. That said, I do believe in the power of faith to help us weather storms much more calmly than we would otherwise.

Proverbs 21:23-24

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity" (23).

So true:).

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