Let Go and Let God
More than bumper sticker theology? Learning from the story of Esther
A recurring phrase I hear when I’m stressed and trying to manage the mess known as my life (or my living Hell, whichever you prefer), is, “Let go and let God.” To which, I usually turn on the poor soul who uttered those words with a withering look (sorry Mom).
Bumper sticker theology goes against my grain. Life is complicated and no matter how catchy a five word phrase can be, it can’t account for all of life’s pains, trials and complex misery.
Typically, this advice isn’t offered when things are going well, far from it. When we’re on top of the world, we don’t tend to worry if God is in control or on vacation, providing our situation doesn’t change. Instead, we are told this when we’re at the edge of our rope. Extending all of our resources trying to prevent our own personal apocalypse from coming true.
As a rugged individualist, I’m always willing to fight for what I want. When things go badly, I struggle with every ounce of my strength, using every trick I can to get the desired outcome. Sometimes the mess is my fault, at other times it’s just the roll of the dice. Regardless of the cause, every effort at my command is given to try fixing things myself, my way.
For all my self-possession and personal responsibility, I was challenged to look for the Biblical model. Is there president for “Let go and let God,” to be found in the Bible?
The Worst Way to Become Queen
The book of Esther tells the story of the titular character, a Jewish maiden who becomes Queen during the exile and captivity from Israel in Babylon.
The previous Queen displeases the King and is exiled, leaving the King looking for a new main squeeze. Esther achieves this position through the earliest version of The Bachelor known to history, in which the King “auditions” a new girl every night until he finds one he likes best.
Not long after Esther becomes Queen, Haman, a member of the King’s Court has a beef with her Uncle Mordecai. As a Jew, Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman or anyone else who isn’t the king. This infuriates the courtier, who’s ego doesn’t take this very well. Haman’s reasonable solution: Mass genocide.
Not knowing Esther is related to Mordecai, or even that she’s Jewish, Haman creates a plan to legally kill the entire Jewish population in the Kingdom through a Purge style edict allowing them to be murdered by their neighbors without reprisal. Selling it to the King as a way of removing an unnamed threat to the realm, Haman’s plan is approved.
When the edict is announced, Mordecai follows the custom of the day by rending his clothes and wallowing in sackcloth and ashes. Hearing about this, Esther sends servants to ask what is wrong. Mordecai tells her about the plot to destroy the Jews and asks her to go to the King and plead for her people.
In the Babylonian Court it wasn’t as easy as knocking on the door and being welcomed by the King. If Esther went to the King, unrequested, and he didn’t tilt his scepter her direction, she wasn’t going to be exiled like the last Queen, she would be killed. Esther reminds Mordecai this, to which he says a famous line we often remember, “Such a time as this.”
Mordecai is assured the Jewish people will be saved, one way or another, but he observes perhaps Esther has been placed in the King’s court, the king’s bed even, for such a time as this. It’s an important concept, one which reminds us God’s plans are greater, longer, and infinitely more complex than yours or mine. However, in the light of this phrase, we often overlook Esther’s response, which is perhaps more important to our daily behavior.
“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. and thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” — Esther 4:16 (NASB Emphasis mine)
Esther says, “if I perish, I perish.” Committing herself to go before the King, regardless of the consequences. She is willing to be used by God despite the potential danger in the outcome. Most Christians in the Western world don’t face this kind of decision. Our struggle is usually on a much smaller scale with smaller stakes, yet few of us can embrace our struggle with the faith of Esther.
Let go and let God can easily be written off a bumper sticker theology, but maybe it has some value. We push and struggle so much in our own strength and in our own power for things which don’t tend to have much meaning or importance. We struggle in situations which can feel like the world is ending. As Christians we don’t need to place that weight on our shoulders.
God has made it abundantly clear in the Scriptures He holds every outcome in His hands. Our job is to obey His commandments and to do the work He has put before us. Never once are we asked to carry the burden of future events. In fact, we are told not to. Philippians 4:6–7 (NASB) says, “Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This is the model Esther followed in her crisis. The practice of fasting as she describes is associated with prayer to God and earnest supplication. She had enough peace from her faith in God’s will to say, “If I perish, I perish.”
God Doesn’t Rely on Us
When Mordecai speaks with Esther, he says if Esther does nothing, salvation will come to the Jews another way. This man knows his God, and knows God’s plans and provision are never hinged upon the actions of you or me. We may be called to act, and it is an action of our faith when we do so, but the outcome isn’t reliant on us.
God decides. He has it all in His sovereign control and goodness, even in the darkest of moments, even in the greatest of our struggles. Praise God He isn’t subject to the frailty of you or me!
As Christians, Christ followers, we are asked to be obedient, to be willing to follow as He leads instead of what we may think is best or what we may want or wish. We are given story after story, proof after proof in the Scriptures of God’s faithfulness. From Gideon leading a minuscule army to defeat the overwhelming army of the Amorites, to Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt and eventually raised to be the Pharaoh’s right hand, to a Jewess asked to go before the King of Persia at risk of death.
Putting It Into Practice
“Let go and let God,” sounds passive, in reality it is anything but. It requires an active attention to submit ourselves to God and His leading, to purposefully wait or act as needed. It was action which Esther took to go before the King, but she left the outcome to God. The Scriptures reiterate time and time again to “Be strong and courageous.” Because we can rest secure the outcome isn’t decided by us or our merits.
Waiting it can be a struggle in its own right. “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting.” is the line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If. It can be an exhausting process, forcing us to suspend our hopes, desires and ambitions for an outcome we may or may not wish. In those moments of letting go, of setting aside what we desire, we are freeing ourselves for something better.
The most depressing book of the Bible, Lamentations, also contains one of the most beautiful passages of faithfulness in moments of crisis and affliction. “The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning: Great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.” — Lamentations 3:22–25 (NASB)
We may not always desire the outcome God brings, sometimes it brings sorrow, pain and discomfort. This is where it becomes faith, a choice to believe in the goodness of our God and His faithfulness, in His promise to use everything for His honor and Glory. We have been asked to let go of the outcomes, to accept God is God and He will determine the resolution.
The next time I hear someone tell me, “Let go and let God.” I’ll restrain myself from giving a withering glare. Instead, I hope I remember the story of Esther and her faith in the light of a perilous personal circumstances. Of her words, “If I perish, I perish.” and her actions which backed them up.