As the world continues to decline in what often feels like moral and ethical darkness, Christians struggle to know whether to fight or flee, to engage or ignore the cultural battle that infiltrates many aspects of everyday life, from abortion laws to religious liberty cases and beyond. We are inundated with messages on a daily basis about what we need to find success, earn more money, and how we should live our religious and political lives.
Can the book of Esther teach modern day Christians anything about cultural engagement? In his new book, Faith Among the Faithless: Learning from Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad, Mike Cosper explores how the story of Esther can help Christians navigate a secular society with hope and courage. Cosper, executive director of Harbor Media, a nonprofit media company “serving Christians in a post-Christian world,” explains in the book’s introduction how he believes Esther can help Christians today, writing that “Esther’s story reveals a way forward in a culture where people of faith find themselves at the margins of society. She neither clutches for power nor seeks self-protection. Instead, she faces reality, embraces weakness, and finds faith, hope, and help from a world unseen.”
As Esther embraces weakness in order to save the Jews in Persia, she risks her own comfort, security, and life for the vulnerable around her. Throughout the book’s nine chapters, Cosper, who is also the author of several other books, including Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World and The Stories We Tell explores how the book of Esther is often overlooked or misinterpreted, especially because the author never makes an explicit reference to God. From the beginning, he shows readers the tension within the story as Esther hides her Jewish identity and eventually becomes queen of Persia. He walks readers through the story in a new way, comparing Persia then to our world today — people struggling for power, money, and influence that often comes with a price.
Each section of Faith Among the Faithless includes both a retelling of the story of Esther, and a commentary on the story — what small aspects meant in that time period, and what it means for Christians today. Cosper explores ideas like resistance, idolatry, conquest and compromise, and remembering throughout the story of Esther, among other things. The call to sacrifice comfort for the flourishing of others is the same call Jesus gives to his followers, he writes.“It’s a choice between death and death—the soul-destroying death of numbness and self-interest, or the death to self that comes from giving our lives away to others,” he writes. “We follow Esther, and, moreover, we follow Jesus on a pathway that allows for real risk in our homes, our relationships, and in our cities, entering a world of death and decay and bringing, in our own deaths, flourishing and life.”
While readers never really see God within the story that is filled with confusion, darkness, manipulation, and often despair, he is there. We may wonder where God is within the story of our lives — both individually and within a larger context, but Esther reminds us, Cosper writes, that God is present, working within and despite the darkness for a larger purpose.
“It is precisely God’s hiddenness that makes this story so hopeful. Whatever dark place you are in today, whether by hapless circumstances or by your own actions, God hasn’t forgotten you. Esther’s story invites us to cling to hope, however small, and to have confidence that whatever evil might currently reign, the story of God isn’t finished.”
Faith Among the Faithless is for anyone who is unfamiliar with Esther’s story, or for those who are familiar but want to know more about how Esther’s story can help us navigate life in “a world gone mad” for the flourishing of those around us.