Matthew recounts an aspect of the Christmas story most of us avoid. After Herod realizes that the magi had tricked him by not directing him to the Christ child, he “was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16).
Matthew then quotes Jeremiah’s disturbing words:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.
Set amidst Jeremiah’s oracles of God’s restoration from exile is this portrayal of the ancestral mother of Israel weeping inconsolably. The vision of the future offered by the prophet also includes this stark reality of suffering. Divine vulnerability interfaces human vulnerability when suffering occurs. In Jeremiah’s narrative, the tears of the mother move God, for they form a powerful prayer. God remembers these children, and compassion offers a hopeful future. God’s suffering ultimately overcomes death, granting life to those “who are no more.”
Our nation is reeling from another agonizing event of carnage inflicted by another troubled young man. Readily accessible weaponry makes a macabre scenario like this a repeated national horror. And the parents of the children are inconsolable because their present lives can no longer include these treasured ones.
We can take steps to change the calculus, however. It is time to break the death-grip of the NRA and pass legislation that prevents the proliferation of guns. It is time to pay attention to the darkness in which many young are mired. It is time for the church to speak more about depression, mental illness, and the debris field caused by divorce; and, preventive and intervening action should accompany speaking.
The question “Where is God?” often surfaces in the vortex of suffering-- especially when a “slaying of the innocents” is involved. While we know the theological arguments about “free will” and God’s voluntary self-limitation in creation, these seem of little comfort to lives shattered by unspeakable grief. What does comfort, however, is the durable presence of caring friends and family—those who embody God’s merciful nearness. Those of us more removed from the immediacy of the tragedy can pray that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Can you imagine what Jesus felt when he learned of the suffering to other families that his birth had occasioned? Weeping for the children who were not spared could not have been far from his mind when he welcomed other children in the course of his ministry. We also weep, lamenting the violence of humanity and the lives of children who are no more—except in memory and hope.
Molly T. Marshall