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I had a difficult time writing about this particular chapter, as it is a pretty ugly one in Biblical history. No matter how many times I read this story, it never fails to break my heart. A mother myself, I don’t know how those mothers could bear to go on after living through such horror. History records that Herod was powerful, paranoid, manipulative, and completely corrupt. His intentions and actions were evil—there is no way to sugar coat or justify what he did. Ironically, Herod (part Jew and part Gentile) called himself “the King of the Jews,” the same name that was later rightfully given to Jesus, the infant he unsuccessfully attempted to murder. Herod ruled as a tyrant, killing among others his own wife, mother-in-law, and three sons.
Many over the ages have asked, Where was God while this was going on? He saved Jesus, but let those other babies die. Why didn’t he save them too? As many advancements as we’ve made since Jesus’ day, human nature has not changed. We’re still committing the same atrocities against one another, and still asking why. Why did the Boston Marathon bombers purposely place their explosives next to an eight year old? Why did Adam Lanza massacre young, innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School? We still wrestle with the question of how a loving God can allow such horrible things to happen. We continue to ask age after age in part because there isn’t an easy answer, and in part because the truth can be painful.
Anyone who has read the book of Genesis knows this goes all the way back to the beginning. In yesterday’s blog post I talked about choices, and how even seemingly innocent ones can send us in the wrong direction. God gave us the perfect world with one simple rule to follow in order to keep it that way—“you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.” He also gave us the gift of free will so that we had the choice to obey or not. Some might say our free will is a flaw…look at all the trouble it got us into right from the beginning. Wouldn’t it have been better to not have free will and stay in the garden forever?
But God did not design us to be flawed, he designed us to be free. Without our free will we would be nothing more than mindless puppets, every word, thought, and movement beyond our control. We would be unable to think, to love, to create, or to experience true joy. Life would cease to have any meaning at all.
Yes, in the Garden we made our first bad choice; we abused our freedom in an attempt to be like God. And true to God’s warning, we still reap the consequence and continue to die. Sometimes we succumb to a broken creation where accidents, age, sickness, and natural disasters take their toll. At other times we even perish at the hands of those who choose to exercise their free will in the pursuit of evil. And yes, it is important that we call out evil for what it is. Giving it a different name, ignoring it, or making excuses for it only feeds into its power, strengthening its hold on us and our world.
So why didn’t God save those infants in Bethlehem from Herod’s evil? No one really knows. Even if God gave us an explanation, we might not understand the answer. Maybe it was important for Herod to believe he had succeeded in killing Jesus so that he would stop his search, and stop killing other Jewish infants in the process. In this case, I think God’s priority was to save the only infant who could ultimately save all of humanity, not from physical death, but from eternal spiritual death. Without Jesus’ life, ministry, and willing sacrifice on a Roman cross over 2,000 years ago, we would all end up dying the ultimate death for that one taste of forbidden fruit.
In the midst of our human emotions, and in the face of suffering, it is easy to forget that our hope is not in this temporary world…this is not our home, and we have not yet met our true, perfected selves. How long we live while we’re here is not as important as who we are living for. There is only one who redeems us, and loves us unconditionally—only one who can bring us home.
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