The Magi and Suffering

With all the Good News, joy and peace accented during Christmas, it is a bit of a jolt that immediately following this holiday comes a remembrance of “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” the children two years and under around Bethlehem whom Herod had put to death [Matthew 2:16-18].  It can make one uncomfortable because the death of any child often evokes a strong emotional response, but when it is deliberate murder, it is like pulling the rug out from under the spirit of Christmas.  Of course, the Bible is not written in view of our traditions about Christmas – it has a more urgent message to convey about how our world is in desperate need of the Savior Who has just come.

In my Creation’s Ballet for Jesus, I suggest that the Magi’s visit was likely around December 25, 2 BC, and that the “Blood Moon” of January 10, 1 BC was an event likely marking Herod’s commanding the deaths of the innocent children, where even the heavens sorrowed over the slaughter.  As identified in an earlier post, 16 days would present a reasonable delay before he acted.  Already the agenda both of Satan and of mankind to get rid of Jehovah at any cost was attempted.

As the Magi leave and are warned to return by a different way (so as to not return to Herod); and as Joseph is warned by an angel to immediately by night take his family and flee to Egypt, what they leave behind is a legitimate question: why do the innocent suffer?  There certainly appears to be a dilemma here: after all, if the great Jehovah of Covenant has indicated that His Glory is His steadfast Love, Grace and Mercy, then why would He allow such a tragedy to happen?

Yet might one wonder if there is bit of hypocrisy in the background of this question.  Humans want the luxury of “free will,” but if one is not allowed to exercise it when it brings suffering to others, then what is the point of such “free will”?  There is little, if any, human rebellion against God that does not affect others in some negative way.  Or should the impact be rated so that this kind of result to this degree is permissible, but the Lord cannot allow anything beyond that degree?  Yet the consequence may be subtle, perhaps in gradually eroding another person’s self-confidence, so that at first it does not seem so bad and yet farther down the line the results are devastating.  Who then will set the standards that God must follow?

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However, look at the atrocities in the world today – we have not really changed in six hundred years except perhaps that we have become more sophisticated: not only are there machete massacres, now we can text-bully on the iphone; not only are there poachers who are excited by the higher prices of an endangered species, but there are corporate executives who give themselves bonuses for destroying millions of people’s retirement investments; not only are there the office-politics back-stabbings and assassinations, but there is the entertainment industry’s glorifying of treachery, selfishness, the grotesque and the sinister.

If the freedom to choose evil is to be given, then it must be wholly given, and the consequences are to be experienced in full, rather than only allowing a mere minor discomfort.  How else will the terrible nature of sin be fully revealed?  A parallel might be made to an alcoholic or an addict of any kind – how often must they “hit bottom” before they realize the destructiveness of their addiction, how they have submitted the control of their lives to something that now dominates them, and therefore need help?  The “enabler“ in these cases attempts to soften the blow for them, fix the problems and hide the results, but, rather than helping the addict, he simply gives implied permission to continue their destructive behavior by not allowing the outcomes and the responsibilities to be faced.

So then what should God do with the very real destructiveness of mankind’s rebellion? sugar-coat everything in order to mute its results and responsibilities, or should He expose it in all its “glory”?  If God assumes the role of an enabler, how then can He effect the true rescue of mankind?  The point of exposing suffering, even in such proximity to the good feelings of Christmas, is to reveal just how close to the surface lie the unpleasant aspects of our rebellion (sin) against God, but also to identify what ultimately is His deep yearning for all humanity.  Suffering makes us understand not only the fragileness of our human character behind the saying, “there but for the grace of God, go I,” but also the depth of commitment behind “for God so loved … that He gave His only Son …” [John 3:16].

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