Fate – or providence?

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer  “…And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  Esther 4:12-14

Have you ever found yourself dumped into a situation you weren’t anticipating, didn’t want, and which made unexpected demands on you?

Here’s a trivial example of the kind of thing I mean. I’m strolling up to the local shops, happily minding my own business, with a little list of bits and pieces I need to do before returning home for a snack and a mug of tea. An elderly lady trips and falls a few yards from me. I help her to her feet – she’s shaken up but not badly hurt – and she insists on getting on the bus she was heading for.

Hardly a life-changing experience for me – not even a day-changing experience! But an experience which jerked me briefly out of my so-called “comfort-zone”. (I hope it goes without saying that I was very happy to be of some little help to that lady, never mind the trivial inconvenience – or even the blood-stains I discovered later on my best coat.)

For Esther it was a far, far bigger thing. She was a young Jewish woman living with her cousin and protector Mordecai in the Persian empire about 500 years before Christ. They no doubt lived a quiet and uneventful life, though Mordecai was a man of some stature even in that pagan society.

But then something truly remarkable happened. King Xerxes was enraged by the disobedience of his wife, Queen Vashti – when he summoned her “she would not come” (1:14) – and so decided to replace her. All the most beautiful young women in the empire were gathered to be vetted for their suitability, and – yes, it was Esther who was chosen. Pretty incredible, but – so far, so good (well, sort of).

But Mordecai had an enemy, an official called Haman. Haman decided that, because Mordecai was a Jew, he would persuade the King to exterminate the Jews throughout the empire. Xerxes stupidly agreed, not being aware of Esther’s nationality.

Esther, of course, was horrified by this threat, like all her fellow-Jews. But what was she to do? By law no-one could approach the King uninvited – not even, apparently, his own queen. She could risk approaching him, but if it didn’t please him she could be subject to the death penalty. Should she take the risk?

This is where Mordecai’s advice came in. He said to her, in effect: “Look, Esther, death is staring you in the face either way. If Haman’s’ edict is put into action, we will all die, you included. But if you take your courage in your hands and approach the King – well, who knows what might happen…?” And then those famous words: “… who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

I’ll leave you to read the rest of the story for yourselves. But the principle that emerges is as fresh and relevant for us today as it was then: Mordecai appeals to the idea of God’s “providence”. In other words, he suggests that there was a reason why Esther should have been chosen to replace Vashti.

My dictionary defines providence (in the religious sense) as “the foreknowing and beneficent care and government of God…” In simple terms: God is in control, knowing all things from the beginning, and working out his good purposes, even if in ways we can’t imagine.

Which prompts the question: Do you believe in the providence of God? Do you believe that you are where you are because God has a purpose for you being there? Do you believe – really believe – the words of Romans 8:28: “… in all things God works for the good of those who love him”?

I don’t pretend this is always easy. Not at all! – especially when sickness or tragic events come into our lives. And we must agree that many of the events in our lives do seem pretty random and of no particular significance (rather like my experience that day). But so it is. And this can give us great comfort and hope.

The hymn-writer William Cowper wrote that “behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face”. And Augustine, the fourth century Bishop of Hippo, wrote: “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to his love, and the future to his providence.”

Wise words!

Lord God, my life seems full of twists and turns, some of them painful, many of them perplexing. Help me to believe that you are in control of all things – and that I need not be afraid. Amen.

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