Faith Among the Faithless - faith among the faithless

In Faith Among the Faithless, Mike Cosper takes a fresh look at the Old Testament book of Esther. If you’ve spent much time in church, you’ve likely heard a sermon based on Mordecai’s plea to Esther that she is in her position “for such a time as this.” Well-meaning Christians use the phrase ad nauseam for encouragement and reassurance that they’re in the right place doing the right thing. It quickly becomes trite. Thankfully Cosper takes a different approach. Do we compromise our beliefs or fully assimilate with the culture around us? Do we grasp for power? Is there another way to live among the faithless? Faith Among the Faithless focuses attention on the relevance of Esther in our contemporary culture.

The Narrative

Cosper retells Esther’s story using… well, story-telling techniques. He shows, instead of just telling. He paints vivid pictures of Xerxes’ banquet hall and parties. He takes the reader down dark back corridors for hushed conversations between Mordecai and Esther. He reveals Hamon’s inner thoughts. Cosper writes of Xerxes:

The king was “merry with wine” (1:10), which is a polite way to say he got drunk and stupid. The citizens of Susa were stunned by the spectacle of the “King of Kings”—glassy-eyed and tongue-tied, staggering through a crowd of peasants. Xerxes began shouting for the queen.

Does this take some elaboration and imagining? Sure, but Cosper is careful to stay faithful to the text. It’s the story-telling technique in Faith Among the Faithless that brings a freshness and sense of intrigue to the narrative.

The Insight

Interspersed in the narrative of the story, Cosper provides well-researched historical details and his own insights into what this all means for contemporary readers. This is the meat of the book and what makes it unique. Cosper writes:

The truly dangerous idea in Persia and Babylon (and the only real heresy) was to believe that your religion was the one true religion. It disturbed the tidy order of things. It made for religious dissidents, and it caused friction amid polite pluralism. In our world, the same is true, although for different reasons. Where their world was overtly pagan, ours wears a mask of secularism.

In our age of secularism, many Christians call for Daniel as a role-model. He lived and worked among the Babylonians, but he refused to comprise his beliefs, even under threat of life and limb. Cosper says there’s a problem with using Daniel as the role model we should follow. He writes:

Most of us aren’t a Daniel. In fact, we are far from it… Christians in general consume as much mass media and are as addicted to pornography, as likely to divorce, as consumeristic, and as obsessed with social media as the rest of our world. Again, we’re immersed in a secular age, and it’s had a profound effect upon us.

Esther’s story is different from Daniel. She was born in exile. It’s all she knows. She’s disconnected and out of touch with the practices of her people—the practices that were supposed to separate them from the pagans around them. She lives a life of compromises. She sins. Cosper points out that her great moment is not a show of force, but of vulnerability. We are far more like Esther than Daniel, and her story has a lot to teach us. Cosper writes:

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.

The Conclusion

Faith Among the Faithless is an important book. It doesn’t gloss over the difficulty of living as a Christian in a secular culture. It doesn’t minimize or ignore the compromises and sin. There are no saccharine calls to just love and embrace joy. The book of Esther doesn’t mention God. It’s two main Jewish characters are exiles who have assimilated to the pagan culture around them. Cosper writes, “I believe that’s why God is ‘hidden’ throughout the story. It is the story of a group of people finding their way back to God through a darkened world; finding their voice for faithful, vulnerable witness; and seeking to ensure that the generations after them don’t make the same mistake.” We all need that story. You can get a copy of Faith Among the Faithless here.