In Matthew 2:16-18, we have one of the most troubling accounts connected to the birth of Christ. Herod the Great, a paranoid king, desperate not to allow this new “King of the Jews” to survive, sends his soldiers on an errand of terror—slaughter all the baby boys in the region of Bethlehem.
The execution of these children was probably a fairly quick day’s work for Herod’s soldiers. Terrible, no doubt, but quick, since Bethlehem is a mere five miles from Jerusalem. One of the troubling aspects of this passage, though, is that God predicted that this would happen. In preserving the life of Jesus, God permitted the murder of the other baby boys in Bethlehem.
This is troubling. God predicted the murder of these children and the weeping of their mothers. The complete fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15 means that these children were killed. Think of what this means—if you have a young son or know a young boy under the age of three, this would mean the death of that child. Imagine the name of your child being one of the boys slaughtered. We see the sovereign mercy of God in sparing Christ and rejoice. But what about the other children? Why did God not tell all the families to flee?
We can’t fully and finally settle this question for good in one blog post. But consider this: at the Fall, when Adam and Eve broke God’s law in the Garden, they introduced cosmic brokenness into the world. Only a cosmic solution can fix that brokenness. In the meantime, there are many small and great evidences that creation is broken. Whether it’s the reckless slaughter of babies in Bethlehem or the murder of unborn babies in a slaughterhouse posing as a medical clinic or the murder of people by terrorists in San Bernardino, CA, each of these stories is a reminder than we need something much greater than deliverance from individual tragedy. We need a Rescuer who can take a cosmic system of evil and set it ALL right. Jesus Christ is a king who can do that, but until he does, we deal with the evidence of living in a broken, fallen world.
So what is the purpose of all this pain and grief in the meantime? It’s at least two-fold. (1) First, pain and heartache pushes people to look for a redeemer. Brokenness moves us to repentance. Without sin and sadness, we wouldn’t need a Savior. (2) Secondly, it’s a reminder of the infinite value of Christ in comparison to every temporary pain. We ask, “Why would you let ____ happen?” We view things individually, rather than cosmically. But God’s plan has never been small, like our thoughts.
Later in Jeremiah 31, after the prophecy of weeping, the Lord promises a new covenant when the law of God will be written on the hearts of his people and he will remember their sins no more. God’s redemptive plan will set everything right to the point where Revelation 21:3-4 are fully and finally realized: 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
A God who can take the world we see around us and make it a new place with no grief at all is a God worth worshiping.