Where in the Story?
by J. Marty Cope
"Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, 'Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?' Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 'Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.'"
Notice the “if.” “If I perish.” Esther didn’t know. She didn’t have a guarantee about the story’s ending. It’s hard to enter into the anxiousness and uncertainty she faced in that moment. Mordecai laid out the framework: “who knows whether you have not come…for such a time as this?” Exactly: “who knows?”
We know because we can read the end of the story. We see the macro; looking from above. We can take the end for granted, for we know it’s good: “Esther, relax, all will be well.”
In that moment, she faced the possibility of terror on both sides. Destruction would meet her people if she did nothing, and death could be her verdict if the king didn’t accept her approach to the throne. She moved in faith—in the direction laid out before her, even though she didn’t know the end of the story.
A similar story: Nehemiah served King Artaxerxes as cupbearer in the Persian court. Upon hearing the news of Jerusalem’s broken down wall and the condition of his fellow Jews living in “great trouble and shame,” he wept and mourned and continued in fasting and prayer. God placed in his heart the vision: return and rebuild.
Then I said to [those in Jerusalem], “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 2:17–20)
Before they even began the work, the opposition plotted. Later as the wall began, Sanballat, Tobiah, and several groups of people wanted to prevent its construction, even to the point of planning to kill the Jews.
Nehemiah’s challenges were many. The people in Jerusalem felt overwhelmed by the project, and felt they couldn’t accomplish it on their own; all while the enemies were moving to attack them in secret. The vision of rebuilding was hardly a guarantee. If we entered the story from this vantage point, how would we have responded?
God sent Jews from outside the city to warn Nehemiah about the proposed attacks. After learning of this, Nehemiah led the people toward Divine confidence. “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight…” Then he began the necessary but difficult task of working while armed, prepared to fight.
Between these stories and today stands the climactic story of history. When, to the cross, Christ nailed our sins, He took the rulers of darkness and “put them to open shame.” This display must have been quite impressive, for it caught the attention of the commanding centurion and those that were with him. So much so that he and they, who had no cause to utter words as members of the faithful, proclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God.” “Truly.” There was no doubt in his mind.
Today, it’s now our turn to stand in the story, and we are unable to see where our life and surrounding historical times might lead. But we have the advantage of the centurion’s testimony. We have the perspective of the historical road, lined with markers of a faithful God. We have the knowledge that in His ascension, Christ reigns and rules with God the Father—now.
God looks at our story here and now—with the most full perspective—knowing that He intends to work for our good and ultimately, bring us home. For the world around us, He wants us to seek mercy and move in the same hope that propelled believers in all generations to take care of the less fortunate, free the oppressed, and seek the good of all.
From Hippocrates forward, many have studied human personality, and in so doing, provided categories and explanations for optimism. I am tempted to think of optimism as a gift to the sanguine among us—a supernatural almost other-worldly, cheery disposition. Do optimists live down in the earthy existence I see and experience? I pride myself, while trying to stay “reasonably” positive, on being a full-on citizen of “Realville.” I don’t want to waste my time with thoughts that don’t fully find root in reality.
But isn’t that the point? What if reality isn’t what I see in my base human grounding? What if the great reality, like the one Esther, Nehemiah, and the centurion observed, is the norm? If so, then by no other means than simple fact, we become, by earthly standards, the most incurable of optimists. I suppose ultimately our perspective, like Peter’s when he exited the boat to meet Jesus, is determined by our gaze: up or down.
So where are we in the story? He knows because in His victory He has written the Story and the smaller ones within it. He reminds us now and always to “be still, and know that I am God.”