Saturday, March 21, 2015

Accepting The Best and the Worst in People

Even as an adult, I find children's books are so comforting to read. The bad guys are always bad.  The good guys are always good.  By the end of the book, evil is soundly defeated, and nobody is sorry when he (or she) is dead and out of the picture.

There is rarely this fuzzy grey area where the good guys do something so off the charts wrong that you recoil from the pages to say, "Woah.  I'm not sure you really are the good guy if you could do something like that"

Reality, though, isn't quite like that.  Humanity isn't at all like that.  People sold out to the cause of Christ and to doing a lifetime of good are still going to shock and disappoint us with actions that are the complete opposite of mercy, grace, and righteousness.

In Scripture, God tries to show us this truth through stories of amazingly righteous individuals who fall flat on their face into the tar pits of adultery, legalism, cowardice, lying, murder, and everything in between.

Even those listed in the spiritual hero hall of fame of Hebrews 11 are far from completely righteous.  These individuals sprinkled throughout the pages believed God, demonstrated their faith time and again in the fruit of their actions....and then they would do something so obviously immoral that we must pause, maybe even question their commitment to God.

We easily remember David who murdered one of his subjects after having an adulterous relationship with the man's wife. We remember Abraham who lied twice, telling both a neighboring king and a pharaoh that his wife was his sister.

Somehow, though, in reading the story of Queen Esther, I have always thought of her as some devout little Jewish girl, one bubble of light growing up in the dark paganism of Susa in Babylon.

Anyone who would say "And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" and then act on those words to potentially sacrifice her life in order to save all Jews had it all together, surely (Esther 4:16).  And so, I mentally put her in the "righteous" column while firmly placing Hamaan, King Xerxes, and the rest of the pagan citizens of Babylon into the "unrighteous" column.

Never did I once consider that no matter how hard Esther's adoptive parents tried to instill in her heart the Jewish ways of faith in Yahweh alone, perhaps Esther wasn't so lily white.  Perhaps she had materialistic longings like other young girls in Babylon--to be rich, to be loved by the king...maybe to even be queen.

In Angela Hunt's newest book Esther: Royal Beauty, she begins with this assumption that young Esther heard the siren's song of Babylon with all its worldly beauty, color, an pageantry.  Calling her by her Jewish name--Hadassah--she fictionalizes the Bible story through first person narrative, presenting parallel, intertwining stories told through the lips of both Esther and the King's head eunuch, Harbonah.

Hunt's book begins, "You may think you know me, but how could you? Others have related my story, and most of them paint a pretty picture. But unless a woman is allowed to speak for herself, no one will ever fully understand the events of a lifetime..and the secret recesses of a woman's heart" (p. 7).

From page one, she challenges the vision of Esther presented in the popular movie One Night with the King, instead, presenting a more complex girl who struggles to come to terms with the Jewish faith of her childhood and the strong lure of the world of Babylon.

Unlike the Esther held up on a pedestal in my mind, Hunt's Esther is more real.  She is one I can relate to.  She is a girl who wants to be true to God and the tenets of her faith but who, likewise, wants to be a part of Babylon, too. 

In a way, Esther must confront the choice presented in Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.."  

Esther must choose the world of the flesh or the world of the Spirit.

As Paul says, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Gal. 5:16-17).

Paul's words seem so easy--Just. Choose.......only it's not as simple.  The fight against the flesh is a life-long endeavor called sanctification.  We will not be free from sin, from this battle against unrighteousness, until we leave behind this life and enter the next realm.

These Bible-time heroes of the faith are as equally human as our modern day heroes of the faith.  When they sin and become mired in their unrighteousness......and when we sin and become mired in our unrighteousness--may we come alongside them in love, extending mercy and grace as we would have them do to us.

Not even the Godliest man or woman has arrived at perfection yet.

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