I always worship on the Lord’s Day expecting to be encouraged in my faith and enriched in my understanding. This week we read Chapter 1 of Esther, the story of the lovely Israelite maiden who is chosen to become queen in Persia.
A domestic crisis in the private parlor of King Ahasuerus brings this self-possessed and virtuous woman to the foreground as a self-denying Christian heroine. The monarch’s handling of the uproar caused by his wife, Queen Vashti, gives us a picture of presidents and officials today work. Politics brings them to national crisis; politics will get them out.
Or so runs the feverish hope of many, even among God’s people.
A revolt in the boudoir
If you can distract yourself from President Obama’s inaugural wake today, you recall how Esther comes to power and eventually saves her people from a slaughter proposed by Nahman, a wiley Amalekite. The king has been reigning three years over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia, and he wants to throw a feast to show “the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.” He does so, and holds a second feast at Sushan the palace. In an expansive mood, “when the heart of the king was merry with wine,” he commands Vashti to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people **** for she was beautiful to behold.”
But Queen Vashti, a contumacious woman, refuses.
“The king was furious, and his anger burned within him.” He holds an emergency council to respond to her act of seeming revolt. “What shall we do to Queen Vashti according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus *** ?” The monarch’s brow is knit. Her disobedience will cause the tranquility in tens of thousands of homes in the 127 provinces to disappear. “For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come’” (Esther 1:17).
Privy council member Memucan proposes a law banishing and replacing Vashti and requiring wives to honor their husbands. “If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus. **** When the king’s decree which he shall make is proclaimed through all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small.’ And the reply pleased the king and the princes *** ” (Esther 1:19-21).
Another political solution?
Christ’s requirement for husbands and wives is the command that husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5. These particulars arise from basic duties as covered in the prohibition of adultery in the 7th commandment, the duty to love one’s mother and father (authority) in the fifth commandment and the general duty in the first commandment to love God first and have no idols.
The scripture has much to say about society, culture, law, justice and home life. But it does not countenance passing laws ordering wives to love their husbands. Such a command is outside the scope of the authority for the magistrate, outside his purview, if you will.
The temptation to solve moral problems by law is happily practiced today by Republicans and Democrats in political office, and many others. They wield the legislative hammer, and to them everything looks like a nail (forgive the cliche of which elder Vaughn Hamilton is good enough to remind us).
Let’s again meet Ron Lowe, a history instructor at UTC and a humble Christian who volunteers as a tutor among impoverished children in Chattanooga. I save for today two observations he makes in our earlier interview. They speak well of Mr. Lowe’s wisdom and a Christian perspective I wholly recommend.
Mr. Lowe’s conception of Christian living is bound to bring you a sense of relief. As you take courage in God’s grace and mercy to you and your family, you will shed a contradicting burden. Namely, the confidence that political activism, elections and the federal congress will save you, restore the country and return America to a moral path. As we shed the idol of politics, we will be free to realize something else.
Christianity’s principle conception: Grace
David What is the main proposition of Christianity?
Ron Lowe It is the person and work of Christ. He came for us. He loves us, and He came to save us from our sin. He has a mission for us that we’ve failed to perform. This is a big part of our message to these kids: He’s designed you for a mission. He’s given you something amazing to do for the benefit of others, something that is ennobling and that brings God glory. We, as sinners, have dropped the ball in fulfilling our mission.
But the good news is that God wants to take what is broken in our lives, He wants to forgive our sins, He wants us to repent and to believe that Jesus is sufficient to take care of our needs. He wants us to follow Him in this mission of doing good in the lives of other people. When we refuse that, or refrain from doing that, we are bringing disorder into this world, and so we want to empower kids with guidance about how to fulfill their God-given mission. Christ is redeeming the world, and He wants to use us as instruments in that process.
David A lot of people who follow what I do are libertarian, Republican anarcho-capitalist types. And they make one big mistake, and that is, they make the state and politics a god. Everything they talk about is politics, Washington and Nashville. How does Christianity combat that false deity of the state as god? How does your work fit into that struggle?
Ron Lowe That was the thesis for my major research project in seminary. It examined the assumed omnipotence of the state as a form of idolatry. And I think the market can also be an idol. The basis for both of these human institutions is affirmed in scripture, but when sin shapes our approach to either of them, they can be used for really bad things, dehumanizing things. Government is God’s gift for our good, for the punishment of wrongdoers and so on. It’s a good thing. It’s a God-ordained thing.
But it can become an all-encompassing substitute for God. The same thing holds true with the working of the market. It can either affirm human dignity, or it can diminish it and dehumanize people. As we have seen, especially in the past century, ideology itself is much more of a problem than the size or shape of any given government or market system. Ideology is what crushes human beings. It is a western, modernist understanding of how governments and economies work.
The state can be turned into an idol; so can free markets
It is thinking you can come up with a system, a formula, a mechanism which will consistently or precisely meet the needs of humans. Whenever we turn a government or an economy into an impersonal, all-encompassing mechanism, one in which everything has to serve that mechanism and affirm the truth of that mechanism, then we are failing to acknowledge our limitations in constructing a comprehensive philosophy to describe it or an omni-competent institution to preserve it. Yes, idolatry: anything that we perceive as being bigger than God.
In our outreach to the kids, we’re not really addressing political or economic systems, certainly not at the outset. As you said, in our culture and in the media, it’s politics, politics, politics. We are told that our chief problems, as well as the key solutions to the problems, are political. And that’s not the case. God does want us to “order our lives together” (Aristotle’s definition of politics), but He wants it to be done in a way that reflects His justice and His love and that respects the dignity of human beings created in His image. We are working to bring justice, but true justice is going to come through Jesus Christ transforming lives and restoring brokenness.
It won’t come through projects and programs. It’s going to come through the supernatural work of Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit in the lives of people. (Italics added.)