Suffering and “God”

As the Magi leave and Joseph hurries his family to Egypt, there is suffering left behind.  We look at the deaths of the innocent children and immediately we cry out, “how could God?!”  Yet the real question is “how could humans?!”  God is not the one who holds the sword or the knife – it is human beings that have the bloody hands.

This calls us to remember how humans got into this position in the first place.  Just what was it that was so attractive to Adam and Eve that caused them to “think for themselves” (as some have so congratulated them)?  The Biblical record tells us that the lure was that “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” [Genesis 3:5]  The pivot of this appeal is to be “like God” – to be our own gods.

It still is, even to us.  Even a firm believer will sometimes find himself in disagreement with his Creator.  Why could God not have done it this way, or that way, so that we are not stuck with this result??  Satan prefaced his temptation with “For God knows …” – in other words, God selfishly is holding back on what should rightfully be ours.  We want to take over the reins to do a better job.

The problem is that everybody else is not eager to go along with us.  Isaiah 53:6 expresses a certain irony in this regard, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.”  Now a god cannot be much of a god by himself.  True, some want to rule the world, but most of us are content to be gods at least within our corner of the world, whether it be large or small.  But how can one exert his will unless there are those who will carry it out?  And so we struggle to gain this power, whether by strength, influence, money, coercion, sex, or whatever it takes to make our will happen.

But it is hard being a god: it is like trying to keep items in a water-soaked box, things just keep breaking out, first here, then there.  It is hard to always think ahead of all the possibilities that affect us, and it is frustrating since so much of our world we have absolutely no control over.
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As more and more keep breaking out, we lash out in anger, and in power we try to force our will – particularly over those things that really matter to us.  Sometimes we may learn a more “sophisticated” method to accomplish the result we want, but push too hard – when we are tired or too much has come at us at once – and sometimes not far under the surface is the reaction to forcibly take back control.

King Herod the Great provides a good, although extreme example of this.  He had done everything he could to become the god of his corner of the world.  In his mind he was a benevolent god, providing beautiful buildings, especially a rebuilt temple for Jehovah, and doing other “good things” for his subjects.  But the Jews did not want to play – they were not in agreement that he should have that position over them.  His hold on his throne was tenuous.  To maintain his control he resorted to murder, and when faced even with the presence of Jehovah Himself, he pulled out the knife.

And there stands the god with the bloody hands, whether Herod or Pol Pot or Hitler or the Klu Klux Klan or the guy in the muscle-shirt who just gave his family a good pounding or the woman who has “stabbed in the back” someone who was in her way or the teenager who has a minute ago text-bullied “a wimp.”  No, it is not Jehovah’s hands that are bloody, it is the hands of the humanity who thought they could be gods on equal par with Him.  When we want to fault “God” for the suffering in the world, perhaps we should be more clear as to which one we are referring to

And so Jehovah, the “real God,” is left to clean up the muck from generations and millennia of these billions of “gods.”  That is what Christmas is about, and that is why “the slaughter of the innocents” occurs in such close proximity in both the Biblical account and in the Church year.  This, in stark reality, is the why that that birth in a stable had to happen, along with the Good News is that He has done something about the mess, even when it culminates on a cross on a hill – but then also in an empty tomb.

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