I learned a great deal in graduate school which for priests is called seminary. Upon graduation, my class pondered how much of what we learned would come in handy in ministry. Currently, I’d say it hovers around 23%. Although a very important percentage, it’s not near the 100% we had hoped for. The percentage increased slightly this week because on Sunday, we get a reading from the Book of Esther. And so, I get to use a seminary phrase I thought would never see the light of day, "non-interventionist objective special divine action." Or, to get rid of the seminary lingo, “How, when and why does God work?”
The Book of Esther doesn’t mention God. There are no ceremonial rites or Jewish customs, nothing from Levitical law, no special dietary restrictions or any sort of prayers. It is a story about the release of the exiled Jewish people. Esther, a woman of Jewish descent, becomes queen. When the King asks what he can do for her, she asks for the release of her people. This has caused some to ponder if God has a particular non-interventionist objective – or, does God simply wait to work through God’s people. Was God waiting for someone like Esther to rise to power and instead of seeking selfish gain work for the benefit of her people or, was God’s invisible, and unmentioned, hand working the whole time.
The science community has pondered the question of special divine action. The quantum physics community has considered if miracles (unexplainable events that happen on a quantum level) that appear to be non-interventionist because what happens is so small are in fact, directed by divine action.
The theological community has pondered the effectiveness of prayer. If God is simply waiting for people to do-the-right-thing, then what effect does prayer have? Some believe that prayer affects and effects the one who prays and God simply waits to intervene. For instance, if everyone in the whole wide world, and I mean everyone, prayed for peace, would it happen? And, if we all did that, is that a part of God’s noninterventionist approach to divine action? In other words, is it God’s plan for everyone to pray for peace at which point it will happen? We might want to call the result “the Esther effect.”
Now that I’ve been out of the seminary community for eight years, the answer to how/when/why does God work seems even more obscure. We have a monthly healing service. At that service, people get prayed for – some by intersession some by direct laying on of hands – and healing occurs. The intercessory prayers (praying for someone who is not present in the group) are especially astounding. Many non-present recipients have noted that at the very time we are praying for them something happened. And sometimes, the healing we pray for actually happens. Some healings have surprised medical doctors. What we prayed for may have happened on a molecular/quantum level; like it is so small that it looks as though God didn’t do anything.
What doesn’t seem obscure is this: we are called to pray. Whether it changes only the one praying, or whether God does divine intervention, or practices “noninterventionist objective special divine actions,” or all three, we are called to obedience in prayer. Even though the Book of Esther doesn’t name God, or mention anything at all about prayer, God’s name is praised for the redeeming works that happened in the book and in history. And maybe the end result of seminary education, prayer, and even quantum physics is this, praise of God.