As I look at the world just now, the main thing I see is chaos.
There are the ongoing challenges with COVID-19 and the effects of the restrictions. Vaccines have brought hope, but even when the threat of the virus is reduced, there are concerns that the ongoing impact of the lockdown on people’s education, finances and mental health will be severe. Various political situations add to the general chaos, as do issues such as racism and climate change, and it’s easy for it to feel overwhelming.
As I’ve read the Bible this week, I’ve been looking at a couple of passages that speak into that.
One is found in John 11 where Jesus receives a message from his dear friends Mary and Martha, telling him that their brother Lazarus is very sick. By this point, Jesus has healed many people, so it seems only natural that he will go and heal Lazarus, but he delays for two days.
Then when he finally decides to go, his disciples begin to panic. He can’t go back to Judea – the people there recently tried to stone him to death – but Jesus insists.
I imagine it all felt a bit chaotic to the disciples, that they were confused by Jesus’ initial response but also afraid of what lay ahead in Judea. The news of Lazarus’ death and Martha and Mary’s individual, but word-for-word-the-same greetings to Jesus can only have deepened the sense that it had all gone badly wrong: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32 NLT)
Nothing had turned out as they expected or hoped, and they must have wondered what Jesus was doing.
The second passage is in the Old Testament, in the book of Esther. Already dealing with the challenges of being in exile far from home, and facing the deaths of both her parents, Esther is taken from her normal life to the palace along with many other young women and eventually chosen to be queen of Persia.
Then a man called Haman rises to power and, upset that Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, doesn’t give him the respect that he feels is due, plots to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of the Jews living in Persia.
The king is quick to agree to Haman’s plan, and a date is appointed for the Jews to be killed.
“Then the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa fell into confusion.” (Esther 3:15 NLT)
Confusion is probably an understatement. Once again there’s that sense of chaos. It seems that evil is going to win, and justice will not be done.
Two things strike me from these stories though: one relating to God and the other relating to the response he looks for from us.
The first is simple: God is still in charge.
No matter how out-of-control and chaotic it felt to the disciples, to Mary and Martha, and to Esther and Mordecai as they lived through these situations, God had not lost control.
He knew from the start that he would raise Lazarus from the dead and he already had a plan to deliver the Jews from Haman.
When we look at these people’s stories, we have the benefit of seeing the full picture. We can see how God is working, bringing good out of evil. Even in the book of Esther, where God’s name is not even mentioned, he is so clearly still in charge of events, but it’s important to remember that it didn’t necessarily seem that way to the people at the time.
When you’re in the middle of the story, you don’t know how it will turn out.
And that’s where the response comes in – God calls us to faith.
Even in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, the response God looks for is faith, and I love that the faith displayed in these stories is so imperfect and realistic.
The disciples still don’t understand what Jesus is doing, but they have the faith to stick with him and accompany him to Judea, even though it looks like the result will be death. Mary and Martha are full of grief and disappointment, but they still hold onto the hope that Jesus is the Messiah and believe that he has the power to do something. Esther is fearful and reluctant but she steps up to go before the king to plead the Jews’ cause.
There are no guarantees of a favourable outcome, but all of them choose faith.
It makes me wonder: where is God at work in the chaos we see around us just now? It gives me hope that he may be working in ways that we can’t yet see. It reassures me that he has not lost control.
And it challenges me to consider: where is God calling me to act in faith – to step out even in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, trusting him to lead?
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT)