Me God's Hand: The Esther Model
by Jules Quincy Stephens
The Master's Artist
(a blog with Jules Quincy Stephens)
to read previous essays, click here
No publishing professional has confirmed this, but there might be a "God" quota, even a "Jesus" quota, in Christian fiction. (Rumors abound that authors who invoke the Holy Spirit's name in a story receive extra royalties.) Is a novel that doesn't name the Trinity non-Christian? One would think a Christian story that neglects to mention God is downright blasphemous.
Or so one would conclude, trudging through the pages of evangelical novel offerings. It's a veritable "Sermon on the Shelf," each novelist scribbling more diligently than the next to point the way to God and win souls.
But the golden rule of fiction writing is show, don't tell. Do Christian writers need to sermonize to create work that pleases God, work that furthers the Kingdom and tells readers The Way? Must we hold their hands and lead them directly to the Pearly Gates, or can we guide them across several golden stepping-stones – hope, love, peace, justice, faith to name a few -- along the narrow path?
Two books of the Bible make no mention of God: Esther and Song of Songs. Bible scholars are quick to label Song of Songs allegorical, a love poem about God and Israel. But Esther? Some Jewish scholars argue against Esther's presence in the holy text for numerous reasons, one being the absence of God in the story.
"Even more significant is the total absence of any mention of God [in the book of Esther]. The modern commentators who stress this peculiarity are underlining a fact that also occurred to the ancient Greek translators," Samuel Sandmel writes in his book The Hebrew Scriptures.
However, based on events in Esther, would anyone question God's sovereignty?
Against all odds, a humble Jewish girl named Esther is made queen of the Persian Empire. Probably no more than a trophy to King Xerxes, Esther nonetheless helps save her people from annihilation.
The only vague reference to God is found in 4:16, where Esther summons her cousin Mordecai, who is also Xerxes' gatekeeper. Esther knows if she appears before Xerxes uninvited, even as queen, she may be put to death. "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish."
Esther may have discussed with Mordecai how God placed her in the palace. Mordecai may have prostrated himself and praised God that he discovered an assassination plot against the king and warned Esther in time to save Xerxes. Perhaps Xerxes, pondering the more-than-coincidental turn of events, mulled the possibility of accepting the God of the Jews. We don't know.
The anonymous author of Esther doesn't stop to tell the reader how wonderful God is, how He is in control even when the Jews' fate seems bleak.
Instead, the writer allows events to unfold in their natural progression. He (or she) gives readers the gift of decision, the choice to draw their own conclusion. The Christian can see and accept that God is in control; the agnostic can say maybe God is in control, maybe he, she or it isn't, because who can know; the atheist (who probably would never read Esther anyway) can stay true to his or her religion of coincidence. Does God give human beings any less than free will?
God writes our human history and allows us to partner with Him in many of the chapters. Often, He ghostwrites scenes – He doesn't take obvious credit but allows seekers to discover Him, allows believers to praise Him. Today He sometimes shows us His work without saying, "Hey, it's Me!" If God can step back and let His work reveal His glory, can we novelists show His glory without saying, "Hey, it's Him?" Can we leave the preaching for Sunday mornings and nonfiction books, and instead show through prose that our chaos is controlled, that there is meaning in joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, hate and love?
This isn't a call to erase the names of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit from Christian fiction; it's a call to storytellers to indeed tell stories and not parade around propaganda under the guise of fiction.
Esther can be every Christian novelist's paradigm, and should give hope to those who want to see more intelligent, less telling stories on the Inspirational Fiction bookshelf. Our stories can be God-centered without God being the center of attention.
Jules Quincy Stephens (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former reporter turned freelance writer who lives with her husband and two daughters in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She is working on a novel, The Tamar Sisterhood.