Esther and Dual-Identity

I’m back from New Wine now and back to blogging through issues in Esther, ready for my first seminar which is on Wednesday. This one follows on from my post on compromise.

In Esther 2:7, we discover that Esther had two names. He real name was “Hadassah”, while the name she was known by to those outside her family (and fellow Jews?) was “Esther”. Karen Jobes remarks:

Esther is the only person in the story with two names. Leland Ryken interprets this as the author’s way of depicting Esther as a young woman trying to live in two worlds – the Jewish world in which she was raised and the opulent world of the Persian court into which she was thrust.

As Christian believers living in a society that is largely secular, we find ourselves in the same situation. We have to live in two worlds – sometimes living in the Christian world of our church family, but much of our time, out there in the “real world” where our beliefs are not necessarily respected or welcomed.

There is therefore a real temptation that we cope with this by taking on a dual identity. We can be one person at church meetings, and a completely different person as we mix at work or college with our non-Christian friends.

Lawrence Singlehurst uses the phrase “enthusiastic dualism” to describe the phenomenon of Christian young people living what are essentially two completely contradictory lives, and yet failing to recognise the disconnect as being a problem. They might as well have two names, a “Christian name” they are known by at church, and a pagan name for the rest of the time.

Did Esther do this? In Esther 2:10 we see that she kept quiet about her Jewish identity. “Hadassah” was a Jew, but “Esther” was, as far as anyone knew, just another Persian. This does not necessarily mean that she completely blended in and adopted the Persian value system, but the fact that no one discovered her Jewish identity until she revealed it suggests that the difference in lifestyle was not so remarkable as to have attracted much attention.

The question I want to raise then is, how important is it to be recognised as being a Christian by those outside the church we mix with? Must we find some way of announcing that we are believers as quickly as possible to every new person we meet? Is it sufficient to attempt to model a different value system, and hope that we provoke a response?

Francis of Assisi is often reported to have said “preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”. But as Graham Tomlin helpfully puts it in his book “Provocative Church”, “without actions, no one listens, without words, no one understands”. Words are indeed necessary, but it is our actions that should prompt the opportunity for those words to be spoken, and lend integrity to them.

Perhaps the reason we struggle to be provocatively different in our places of work is that we have a weak “theology of everything” – we fail to see how the lordship of Christ makes a significant difference to the everyday activities we find ourselves doing. And so we default to blending in with our surroundings, unwittingly living a dual identity.

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