Psalm 38:18–23; Esther 2:1–18; Romans 8:20–33

Psalm 38:18–23: Our psalmist, speaking as David, admits his sinfulness:
For I am ripe for stumbling
and my pain is before me always.” (18)

…as well as his sincere intentions to confess those sins, which he finds repugnant, before God:
For my crime I shall tell,
I dread my offense.” (19)

I think these lines are the psalmist’s assertion that David’s singular relationship with God was unique—even when God seemed to be absent. Even in the most dire circumstances David looks first to his own sinfulness and his willingness to confess his sins even when the situation is perilous. His enemies are proliferating and gaining strength. They conspire to defeat David even as he asserts he has been attempting to do good and certainly has done them no wrong:
And when my wanton enemies grow many,
my unprovoked foes abound.
And those who pay back good with evil
thwart me for pursuing good.” (20, 21)

Of course we have to ask if David’s intentions were as pure and gracious as he claims they are. One man’s perceived kindness can too often be seen as carrying out a hostile agenda. We need only look to Washington DC to see this intrinsic misunderstanding in full operation.

The psalm concludes with a classic supplication:
Do not forsake me, Lord.
My God, do not stay far from me.
Hasten to my help,
O master of my rescue.” (22, 23)

Unlike many psalms of supplication, this one ends on a down note. There is no conclusion that celebrates God’s ultimate faithfulness that we find in other psalms.

Esther 2:1–18: While our authors do not say so directly, we get the sense of some regret “when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.” (1). Seeking to rescue the situation, his servants suggest a beauty contest: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king.” (2) They send out messengers through the empire to gather the young virgins, who will be brought back to Susa, placed in the harem and, interestingly, have “cosmetic treatments be given them.” (3) Some cultural practices such as women’s makeup have been around a long time!

We meet Mordecai, who had be exiled to Babylon and with the conquest of Babylon now finds himself at Susa. He has been the guardian of his orphaned cousin, Esther. Since she is beautiful she is gathered—apparently without her agreement—into the harem. On Mordecai’s advice she does not reveal that she is Jewish. We see the depth of Mordecai’s love for her: “every day Mordecai would walk around in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared.” (11)

After 12 months of cosmetic preparation, the woman is sent to the king  where he has sex with her. As a reward, the woman “was given whatever she asked for to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace.” (13). WHen Esther’s turn came, “she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised.” (15)

Esther wins the beauty contest and becomes queen: “ the king loved Esther more than all the other women…so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (17) At this point, the king, who appears to be thoroughly in love with Esther throws a party—”Esther’s banquet”—and declares a holiday and “gave gifts with royal liberality.” (18)

Things are looking hunky-dory for Esther and by implication, Mordecai. But the drama is yet to come…

Romans 8:20–33: Human sinfulness has corrupted God’s creation. And if we look at how humans have subsequently despoiled creation after Paul wrote these words, these words have even greater impact. In Paul’s mind creation itself “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (19) He has an intuitive understanding of the 2nd law of thermodynamics: entropy—that disorder grows and all things decay and die—as “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it,” (20) which I will take to be the doctrine of Adam’s original sin.

But now, through Christ and those who become God’s children, there is the hope that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (21) However, even though we have become God’s children, we still await the final restoration of God’s perfect creation—including our own frail bodies—that will not occur until the end of history: “and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (23)

It is this final perfection of corrupted creation for which we hope—and hope now becomes Paul’s theme: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes[d] for what is seen?” (24)  Paul, being Paul, offers advice to his readers: “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (25) Here, I think he is addressing his contemporaries who believed that Christ’s 2nd coming and the end of history would occur during their lifetimes.

So, what are we to do while we wait in hope? While we may not have perfect creation and perfect bodies, we have the Holy Spirit. And when we are deeply troubled and “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (26) In turn,  the Holy Spirit effectively translates our inarticulateness to a loving God, who cares for us because God “knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” (27)

For me, this is a magnificent promise. That even when we cannot articulate our feelings and worries, the Holy Spirit articulates them for us. This interaction between the Holy Spirit and God brings Paul to one of the most famous (and misinterpreted) verses in the NT: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (28)

We often hear “God has a plan for your life” and this verse is used as justification for that statement. When we can look back at events in our life it’s not impossible to piece together a set of circumstances which we can retrospectively call God’s plan.” However, I believe life is far more random than God having layed out a precise path for us to follow, usually unwittingly. Otherwise, what is free will all about?

As for things “working together for good,” we need to be careful. Discerning the “good” in many aspects of life is a difficult task of discernment. But Paul is making this statement in the context of hope. And it is in that hope that all things work together for good.

Finally, Paul reminds us that even in the midst of trials (see the psalm above) God is on our side: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (31) When we think about how things are to “work together for God,” we can do it only in the frame of reference that God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (32) If ever we needed a sign of God’s generosity to his sinful creatures, including me, it is right here. That is what “working together for good” is all about.

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