Why would God let something as gut-wrenchingly bad as the slaughter of the Holy Innocents happen, especially right after the joyous birth of His Son?
Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents. (Oh, and Merry Christmas by the way. We’re on Day #4 of the Octave.) But while the “Coventry Carol” has always been my favorite Christmas carol, I have to be honest–I have a really hard time seeing how this feast day fits in to the season. Here we are in the Octave of Christmas, one of the two most joyful feasts in the Church’s calendar, and right smack dab in the middle we throw in a day to commemorate the horrific murder of a bunch of helpless little boys on the order of a deranged tyrant? Really?
I was struck in a new way by that image, “Rachel, weeping for her children, and she will not be comforted…for they are no more.” It breaks your heart, doesn’t it? It seems so unfair. God comes to earth as a little boy, and to mark the event he allows the massacre of all the neighbors’ kids. Joseph and Mary fled Bethlehem and went into Egypt; the other parents in Bethlehem tucked their babies in to bed and slept sound, never dreaming the king would have anything against them, let alone their children. This all came over me in a wave during mass today. Where was God? And yeah, let’s borrow that old cliche for a minute: how could he allow this to happen?
I think it’s going to be a lifetime before I have the full answer. These things are supposed to grow in us like they did in Mary. But one answer came to me today, and I wanted to share it, because I think it fits in with where we singles are in life right now. “Not as man sees does God see.” Or, to borrow another favorite old phrase: “God’s ways are not our ways.” (Thank God for Scripture, eh?)
It’s easy to forget how much we live our lives in blind trust. And often that blindness means having the humility to say I just don’t get it. Beyond that, we have to have the courage to accept that sometimes God’s will isn’t going to fit in us comfortably. That isn’t a problem with God’s will, by the way; it means we’re cutting our own wills a bit too much slack. In my humanness, the thought of those baby boys dying literally wrenches my gut. I want to wave my arms and scream at the raw awfulness of it. (In truth, I’m afraid of it, of what it suggests about this Christian life.) But in grace I have to let it go. “God, this thing hurts so bad I can’t breathe around it. And you want it that way. I can’t sugar coat it or explain it or make it seem somehow beautiful. It’s hideous.”
This is what it is to accept God’s will, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s easy, because we see the good in it right away. (Falling in love; taking that job we really, really wanted and just got offered.) And sometimes it’s at least doable, because we know there’s good in it even if we can’t see it. (I’m thinking of difficult medical procedures, or pregnancy and childbirth; of writing a dissertation or moving across the country for the sake of family.) But what about doing God’s will when we can’t see the good in it? Even harder, what about standing back and watching God’s will be done, despite all our best efforts, despite our understanding, our wants, our fears? And what about accepting that God allows unpleasant, nasty, and even horrifying things to happen sometimes–and trusting Him anyway?
Maybe He has to pull us up short in the midst of our celebrating so we don’t forget. His ways are not our ways. There are some things we just can’t understand.