The Girl Nobody Likes
Everyone, believer or non-believer, has to come to terms with the reality of evil; but, for the non-believer, evil poses no philosophical puzzle. To the non-believer, life is what life is – there is no ‘meant to be’. The non-believer never claims that the world has meaning and purpose. If there is good, so be it. If there is evil – well, what do you expect? It’s all ‘sound and fury’ anyway.
A believer lives in the same world that the non-believer does and yet the believer makes the outrageous claim that the world was meant, not for chaos and confusion, but for justice and peace, mercy and truth. No wonder we’re laughed at!
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Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
Matthew 2, 13-18
THE GIRL NOBODY LIKES
Rachel [is] weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more..
Matthew 2, 18
An enormous tragedy will leave, in its wake, an enormous scar. The tragedy itself is but a moment in time. It begins on such a day, at such an hour. It continues only so long, and when it is over it is no more. The scar, however, is everlasting.
Perhaps my mind is still focused on the tragedy at Sandy Hook. “God,” scripture promises us, “will wipe every tear, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain.” (Rev. 21, 4) I wonder, when I reflect on that passage, whether any of the parents of those children who died on that terrible day would actually want to have their tears wiped away. Grief, now, is the only avenue open for loving the darlings they’ve lost. If you had suffered such a loss would you ever ‘get over it’? I can’t even imagine what emotional recovery would look like.
I’ve written in the past about the reality of evil, and about the obstacle that that intractable reality poses to those of us who wish to find a place for faith in this troubling world – a faith in a loving God. No doubt, I’ll be writing about it again – and again. Evil is not going to go away, nor is our need for faith. Today, however, I want to share some thoughts – not about finding a faith that can withstand the challenges of ‘real life’, but about enduring that faith once we’ve found it.
We are instructed, in fact we are commanded to pray, “Father, deliver us from evil.” God’s plan for life is not so inscrutable that we’re clueless about its general design. The business of God – at least in part – is the business of protecting His children from evil. Life’s catastrophes are tough enough on the faithless. Catastrophe is no surprise to those who are convinced that life is “a tale told by an idiot.”
The believer is in a tougher position. We believers are as likely as anyone to be victimized by evil. If we don’t delude ourselves, we understand that God doesn’t play favorites. We do as God commands, but we realize that obedience gives us no immunity from life’s agonies. After all, if God were of the mind to ‘pull some strings’ and bestow special benefits on his friends there would be no martyrs.
Martyrs??? No way! Imagine that a tyrant decided to throw a Christian onto the sporting field of the local colosseum in order to release the wild animals and revel in the gory aftermath. A God who ‘played favorites’ would certainly intervene and the tyrant would have to watch in amazement as God’s faithful one frolicked alongside a pride of lions as if they were a litter of playful kittens. What a story, huh? Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if things worked out that way? In fact, they ‘should’ work out that way! “For it is written,” as the devil reminded Jesus, “He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Matthew 4, 6)
That’s why we’re in a tough position. We endure as much suffering as the non-believers but we’re supposed to keep asserting that God has our backs. We read fairy tales to our children; and in those tales, the wicked are always punished and the virtuous are always rewarded. Why is ‘real life’ any different? In ‘real life’ the scoffers have our own words near at hand to taunt and ridicule us.
When we listen to today’s gospel, we hear about Rachel. Rachel is Israel’s favorite, and God’s favorite too. If the Infinite God used His power the same way the princes of this world use their power, Rachel would never shed a tear. She would never have cause to. Since the dawn of civilization, every society has been alike in this regard: those who have ‘friends in high places’ are ‘delivered from evil’ far more frequently than the rabble. Remarkably, Rachel’s ‘friend’ appears to have let her shift for herself.
Rachel is inconsolable. Her tears are never ending; and, for Rachel, one tragedy ends only to have another tragedy begin a little while later. There are ‘Rachels’ all over Newtown Connecticut today; but today is no different than any other day. The world has never been in short supply of Rachels, nor will it ever be.
You can easily imagine how tough it is to be Rachel. Not only does she suffer herself, she frustrates all her would-be comforters. What good is it to be Rachel’s friend? Nothing ever makes her happy! You’d think she loves to be miserable. She is, as I’ve heard it described, “a bottomless pit of need”. Steer clear of Rachel!
As tough as you might think them to be, matters are even tougher for Rachel than you imagine – for Rachel is God’s favorite and she can never forget it. It might be a relief to Rachel to “unknow” God’s love, and God’s promise of protection, but she can’t. When one has been touched by God, one never forgets – any more than one who has been touched by tragedy forgets.
“For my thoughts,” says the oracle of the LORD, “are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways”. (Isaiah 55, 8) Ain’t it the truth!! God has every intention of protecting us from evil, but his ‘way’ is a way that’s really, really tough for us to swallow. Here’s the thing: God expects us to do the dirty work! God’s glory is revealed when He keeps His promise and protects us from evil; but God’s invitation to witness His glory is even more comprehensive than we think. God wants us to be as close as we can be to the goodness of His glory, so we are called – not only to be the beneficiaries of God’s promised protection – but to be the agents of that protection as well.
I’ve talked about this earlier, but there’s a reason God created us in His image and likeness. There’s a reason he endowed us with so much capacity to be good to each other. There’s a reason He’s asked us to call Him ‘Father’. He wants us to be like Him. Like father, like son. Like father, like daughter. “A son does only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also.” (John 5, 20)
Faith is our burden, but it is also the means by which our burden is lifted. We know that life is more than meaningless chaos; and we know that through faith. Faith gives us eyes to see, and these eyes of ours enable us to see the One who delivers us, the One who protects His people from evil.
We see, in order that we may learn to do. Those are our ‘marching orders’; and when the life we see with our natural eyes doesn’t coincide with the life we see when we use the eyes of faith we should understand that God still has more to teach us about abiding in His glory. God really is teaching us to be like him, and God is not put off by the fact that we are dreadfully slow learners. God’s mercy is everlasting, and so is His patience.
Rachel cries, not because God has let her down. She cries because you have let her down. She cries because it’s too much of a bother for you to help her carry her burden of grief. She cries all the more because she knows that, good to His word, God sent his servant to do His will and to fulfill his promise of protection. Do you want to know who this servant is? Try looking in the mirror!