Work-related delay; sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Have you ever noticed the volume of music that revolves around defaming someone? I’m not just taking about airing what should be secret, but about the desire to embarrass. Seems worth delving into.
One of the most insidious frauds humans perform is false outrage. You know what I mean: those times when a person you don’t like makes some minor infraction and you blow up like God has ordained you to point out and correct their egregious injustice. In the book of Nehemiah Sanballat makes such a tale when he claims that there’s a rumor Nehemiah plans to rebel against the king. That boy didn’t care about the rebellion, he just wanted Nehemiah to go away and stop stirring up his pool. But there is, to me, a better, more useful, and more impactful version of this lie in the Bible, and it’s found in the book of Esther.
The book of Esther opens with the king of Persia, Xerxes (the guy from 300), throwing a massive party. A week into the binge-drinking Xerxes decides he wants to trot his exceptionally hot wife, Vashti, out in front of his seven princes, so he calls for her to come out before his guests wearing the royal crown. This is an odd request for a Persian king because Persian queens were typically forbidden from public appearance. It was, though, common to bring out a naked girl at the party to impress your guests. Vashti refuses her king’s request. We aren’t told specifically why, but it’s likely because what Xerxes was asking was for her to come wearing only the crown. He was proud of her and wanted to show her off as the naked girl thereby making his men jealous.
This would give Vashti all the reason she needed to refuse. It was inappropriate to ask a Persian queen to appear, let alone nude. Vashti’s name is commonly translated as “beautiful”, but that’s actually wrong. In modern Persian it means “goodness”, but in old Persian it meant “excellent woman”, as in “the most excellent specimen of a woman”. With a name like that you know she was a woman of high class and dignity; such a request was probably horrifically hurtful to her, particularly because she’d been hosting a party for the ladies of the court at the time. I can’t imagine how humiliating it must have felt to be on the high of having this lavish party for these ladies in which you’re sharing the experience of being the queen of Persia and a guy comes in to remind you that to the king you are just a soft piece of flesh. You can imagine that her “no” came across more of an “oh, no he didn’t call me out like a harlot”. Maybe she even snapped her fingers as she said it, who knows.
So, anyway, she says no. The king, whom if you recall is drunk, gets furious and asks his princes what he can do to punish her. In comes his good friend Memucan — whose name laughingly means “dignified” — who tells him that she has not only rejected the king, but disrespected him as well as all the men under his rule and that she has set a precedent for women everywhere to disobey their husbands. He tells the king that she must be stripped of the title Queen and banished. The drunken king agrees and has her kicked out. Now tell me: do you think Memucan believed a word of that garbage or was he just angry he didn’t get to see a peep show? Or worse, did he believe his own slippery-slope argument?
Soon after sobering up the king, shockingly, thinks twice about what he did to his beautiful wife. He begins to wonder if he should go get her, and in rushes Memucan to convince him that the right thing to do is go find a newer wife. What a considerate friend. Again I ask: was it really necessary that because she didn’t want to flash her rack to this guy that her life deserved to be ruined? What was it to him if Xerxes changed his mind and brought her home? This may sound like a crusty historical story, but consider how ridiculously frequently that exact scenario plays out today.
Every teenage girl has suffered the pressure of a boyfriend to have sex with him. If she agrees there’s a good chance her friends or his friends will brand her a whore. If she refuses there’s a good chance her friends or his friends will call her a tease or an ice princess. Now the Internet compounds the issue. Sexting has become so common among teens and young adults that there are apps specifically designed for making it more secure and less permanent. There are girls across this country being asked to bare themselves digitally. When they refuse, these boys and their friends all too commonly decide to destroy that girl. It happens every day; some young girl ends up bullied or heartbroken because she tried to retain her self respect. These scumbags don’t care that the girl did or didn’t do it, they simply relish the idea that there’s a vulnerable girl ripe for torture, a person they have power over.
In 1904 Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit.” It refers to any position that provides you the authority to influence a great number of people. He wasn’t referring to forcing your opinion; he was using “bully” as a synonym of “good”, as in the expression “bully for you” (which is admittedly less used today than it was when I was a kid). In his case he was referring to the White House, which he saw as the ultimate place for a person to spread their view. But I propose that our souls provide a bully’s pulpit: a place from which those who seek to tear down others may launch their offensive. We so often allow our principles to be crushed under the weight of what another person or people may think of us that we allow peer pressure to drive us. We accept the sermons of hate readily, and what’s more is that we then spread them to others.
Vashti was gorgeous. We’re told so. Xerxes clearly cared for her, insomuch as a fool who considers himself a living god is capable of caring for someone. But the moment she causes him even mild embarrassment his friends convince him he should as soon kill her as look at her. What is that? Why are we so quick to forget that other people are first people? And why do we, like Xerxes, so easily allow ourselves to pick that view up from others? It’s because we are desperately afraid that Satan is right: that God will see us for the grubby, muddy little blood-soaked worms we are and He will squash us for our insolence.
See, at the core of Memucan’s action was an insecurity — a base rejection of Vashti’s self-confidence and self-respect. We have all known these people; you can imagine he was very much a “yes” man, that he did everything he could to get attention because he saw that as validation from which he could base his own confidence because he could not find value in himself. His attack on her was likely not willful, or at least not conscious; he thought that what he was saying was right, at least insomuch as it’s what he thought the king wanted to hear. And the king allowed it not because he was drunk but because this guy’s worship made him feel powerful — a thing he needed to cover his own insecurities. This is what I mean when I suggest we stop thinking about people as people: neither of these men were thinking about Vashti; her ruined life was a byproduct of their corrupt relationships to each other and to God. She became a playing card in the poker game of Memucan’s reputation.
We do the same things to each other, from the smallest teasing of a coworker to the most vile acts of rape and murder. No man ever raped a girl because he was comfortable with himself and his sexuality. No woman ever slaughtered her children because she was such a proud mother. And forgive that this may sting (I know it does me), but no one ever felt the need to talk about a person behind their back because they had a strong understanding of God’s Love.
When we see another person who doesn’t fit the norm — skinny when we’re fat, fat when we’re skinny, tall when we’re short, metro when we’re hipsters, whatever — we watch them, waiting for any harassable infraction. The moment they slip up to any degree we saddle up on our high horse and proudly call them out publicly. Because it diverts attention from us, from our iniquities. We don’t wish harm on that person, but in that moment of opportunity they are simply another dog trying to steal our meal; an unfortunate consequence of the necessary battle. “And honestly,” we tell ourselves later, “if something bad happened to them they probably deserved it.” We open ourselves to be the bully’s pulpit because it gives us some brief respite from fearing the ultimate bully: God. Do you see how tragic? How corrupt?
I know it seems I’m harping on this topic lately, and I think that’s because I haven’t managed to get across what He’s telling me. So indulge me another attempt. God is not mad at you. He made you, flaws and all. You’ve heard these words before. If you grew up in church you’ve heard them your whole life. But listen like never before; consider the depth of those words from my eyes, the eyes of a toddler Christian who doesn’t know enough to bring in complexity. Consider this a case of “kids say the darndest things” if you must. Like a 4-year-old will instantly and innocently point out the thing you are most sensitive about I am going to say something true and scathing to all of us: when the Bible says that God was angry or wrathful or hateful YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND THOSE CONCEPTS. You flatly have zero idea what those passages mean and they are beyond your grasp. Because they were beyond the grasp of the writers. Their words failed them in those sentences as surely as mine fail me here.
I said it in a previous post, but you and I cannot gain a fraction of the understanding required to discern what caused God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah or flood the earth. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. As you explain sex to a child through birds and bees so He gave us these words to allow us some ability to process the unfathomable. There is danger in that. A pastor hesitates to say it because it seems like it implies the Word is fallible, at least to those less trusting. That may be true, but to any who find that my words imply errancy hear this: all Scripture is profitable, all Scripture is inerrant. That does not imply in any way that all Scripture is digestible. Some Scripture exists to provoke thought, expansion, growth, and — yes — even debate. Trying to reconcile what is meant by God’s hate to the statement that God is Love leads to a revelation of Him that is earth-shaking, but which still doesn’t answer the question.
Return to my assertion: God is not mad at you. Not one moment since our creation have we been not naked. Adam hid because of his shame over his nakedness, but never did he actually cover himself to any but humanity. We are as absolutely naked today as we were when Adam was formed from the dust. God made us and He knows us, sees us, better than we do. He did not simply form our three-dimensional bodies, but he ordered our fourth-dimensional days. He Created you and me and every day of your life and my life at the same time. He sees it all, every cell and every second, and He calls it His masterpiece. There is no room for anger there, for bitterness, for rejection, for hate, or even for indifference.
That’s right, not even indifference. God doesn’t punish you or ignore you. Ever. Never? No! Never. He Loves you desperately and completely. You are everything He ever wanted you to be in this moment, as you are in every moment of your life. We sin because we don’t believe that, can’t accept that. Christ died that we might have a thread to hold to understand it. All your insecurity, all your angst, is undeserved. They hurt you, I know, those people in your past who didn’t help you feel valued. You did horrible things, I know. I tried to kill myself, I get it. I’ve wilfully hurt others. We’ve all done terrible things. We all DO terrible things. But do not confuse that with a consignment of death. Christ paid the debt for all we’ve done and all we will do. These things never needed be an anchor for us, but we couldn’t stop ourselves from listening to the serpent. So the Word became flesh to hold out a hand to us and show us the way back home.
We are worthy of His Love because He Loves us. That may tear at your brain, but there it is. He values us and therefore we have value. Stop worrying about what you lack, how you err. Stop the internal locus and realize that He is your locus. Derive your self-worth from that. Relinquish your desire for control to that. Love you because He Loves you. In so doing you will see all humanity as your baby sister, in need of protection and Love. I can’t say I’m there yet, but He tells me it’s so.
Father, I have ached over these words for a week. I don’t think I do them justice, and I know I don’t practice what I’m preaching here. But I want to, Lord, only You know how badly. Help us to understand more, Father, and if I might ask for my sun-stopping prayer: let us for one hour of one day manage to thank You properly, show You proper gratitude. For all we do and all we don’t do, the truest thing our hearts desire to do is show You how much we appreciate You. Even when we don’t consciously know it, Lord, we want to thank You. Cover our ears from the lie, our eyes from the pathetic lion, and our lips from scathing words and let our hearts pour out to You a chorus that makes the angels weep for its beauty. I know in my deepest heart that just one hour of that among even as few as read my blog would bring conversion of the world. Let it be so, Father, if there is but a seed of faith in my desperate heart. I Love You inexpressibly. In the name of Your Word and my brother, Jesus, I pray. Amen.