Slaughter of the Innocents

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more." (Matthew 2:16-18)

Once again we are faced with the senseless slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut.  We weep for the loss of these precious lives, and are left to wonder why someone would commit such a heinous atrocity. 

A little more than two thousand years ago an enraged, jealous, and insecure king mercilessly killed all of the children under two years of age in Bethlehem.  And all of the mothers and people of that region could not be comforted by any kind of explanation.  Words could not explain what was inexplicable.  

How was this powerful potentate threatened by the lives of these infants in a small Judean village?  How could the deaths of the children and adults in Connecticut make the life of the killer any better?  We seek for a rational explanation.

These questions beg for answers:

• Why do people do evil things like this?

• Is there someone or something that we should blame?

• Surely God could stop this; why doesn't he?

There are many more questions, but I'm going to attempt to answer just these three.

Why do people do evil things like this?

Let's step back and look at the larger picture.  Death is the result of sin.  Sin has been the scourge of humanity from the day that the first man and woman chose to disobey the one rule that God had given them.  And it didn't take long for death to rear its ugly head: the first boy that was born into the human race killed his brother in cold blood.

The apostle John gives us God's perspective on the first murder in human history:

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. (1 John 3:11-12)

John learned this from Jesus, who said:

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

So, one of the reasons people do things like this is hatred.  They look at others who are righteous and hate them because their own deeds are evil.  They desire to put out the light that exposes their own darkness.

In fact, they have become so ensnared by evil that they have allowed the evil one to have dominance and give direction in their lives.  As Jesus said: "The one who sins is the slave of sin."1  John describes Cain as "Of the evil one".  He had become the slave of Satan.

But it was by his own choice that Cain had become the slave of sin and Satan.  God had given him adequate warning:

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:6-7)

Sin, and the lord of evil, wish to have mastery over every human being.  God had accepted Abel's offering and had rejected Cain's offering.  (Presumably because it was not offered from a humble and grateful heart.) 2  God laid out for Cain the path to righteousness and the path to evil; Cain chose an evil path.

Sin is enticing.  The lord of this earth is deceitful and conniving.  The path to righteousness is uphill.  The path to evil is downhill.  Jesus said it this way:

The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Nobody stumbles into the right way.  Doing what is right requires that we go against the current.  People stumble into sin.  It is the natural path to those who are not paying attention or aware of the forces at work in their lives.  As God said to Cain: "Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you."

Unfortunately we don't often think about the fact that every sin committed by every person has a deleterious impact upon the rest of us.  And the reason that we don't think about this, is because we don't often see the connection.  John Donne famously said: "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind."  Similarly, I assert that the sin of each man impacts me, because, indeed, "No man is an island."  Private sins have public consequences.

As an example, if a man commits adultery, even if his wife is unaware of it, it has an impact on her and on their children, as well as on the life of the adulteress and her family and friends.  It affects the quality of the marriage the couple has, and therefore their children do not have the example of a successful marriage that they could have.

If his adultery results in divorce, the impact upon their children and grandchildren can be felt for several generations.  A daughter in such a marriage, seeing the lack of love of her father for her mother, may develop a hatred for men, and decide to not commit herself to a man in marriage.  A child of divorce may end up blaming himself for the failure of his parents' marriage, and may withdraw into a lonely and aimless world of Internet surfing and relationships that are detrimental to him and the people around him.

Parents who set a consistently righteous example, and who lovingly train their children to respect the laws of God and the rights of their neighbors, will help to stem the encroachment of evil in our culture.  On the other hand, experience seems to attest to the fact that whatever sin one generation reluctantly gives in to, the next generation pursues with reckless abandon.

Now, we ask: "If the majority of people are taking the path to destruction rather than the path to life, shouldn't there be more mass murderers?"  Just because people choose the broad way doesn't mean that they all become as bad as they can possibly be.  People still have the power to say "No" to the temptations that seem loathsome or ignoble.  

Additionally, we must not forget or minimize the power of the Spirit of God, who is always working among the hearts of mankind to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment.3  It is his job, every day, to try to convince people of right, wrong, and a day of accounting.  If he were not doing this, our world would be a place of rampant, unspeakable evil.4

Why do people do evil things like this?  It never begins with a mass murder.  It begins with a lie.  It begins with an act of disobedience.  It begins with a theft.  It begins with a rejection of the path less travelled and a decision to explore the path taken by so many others.

If we were to be able to examine the life of Cain, we might discover that the seeds for the murder of his brother were laid early on in his life.  Perhaps the first parents were not careful to show love to both of their sons, but rather found themselves playing favorites.  Perhaps Cain was jealous of his brother, just as Joseph's brothers were jealous of the special attention their father Jacob showered upon him.  There's really no way to know.

This leads us to the next question—

Is there someone or something that we should blame?

As soon as something evil happens we always look for someone or something to blame.  We come by this approach rather naturally: our first parents did the same thing!

God said, "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Genesis 3:11-13)

Eve blamed the serpent.  Adam blamed Eve — and God, because he gave her to him.  A professor of mine told us that when trouble happens, we all either hide or hurl.  We withdraw to ourselves, or we start throwing blame at something or someone.

And so we see all kinds of things blamed for the ills in our society:

• Improper potty training

• Low self-esteem

• A disease

• A bad relationship with a parent

• Alcohol, drugs, medications

• Guns and knives (and baseball bats?)

• Poverty

• Lack of a governmental "safety net"

• Children born out of wedlock

• The weather

• Law enforcement

• The legal system

• Etc., etc., etc.

There is no end to the list of things that we can find to blame for the tragedies in our culture.  

When God was faced with Adam and Eve's sin, and the blame they were seeking to place on others, he simply ignored their excuses, and held each individual personally responsible for their own actions.  Each person (including Satan) received his/her own personal judgment.

When these kinds of things happen (like the mass murders in Connecticut), it seems that everybody trots out their favorite cause.  One side says we need less guns, and the other side says we need more guns.  If the guilty party came before God, I doubt if he would pass judgment on the gun; he would pass judgment on the person.

My Grandfather's younger sister, along with her husband and two small children, were brutally murdered in their beds at night by an ax-wielding stranger.  The ax was taken from the back porch of a neighbor's house.  This 1911 murder case in Portland, Oregon, was never solved, but was just one of at least nine ax murders that took place across the county in 1911-12.

At the time, nobody advocated that axes should be banned, or that everybody ought to carry an ax.  They just did everything they could to find and prosecute the perpetrator, and to protect themselves and their families.

There may be environmental circumstances that cause a person to be more likely to commit a heinous crime, but the clear message of the scriptures is that every person is responsible for their own actions.

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:20)

A corollary question arises at this point.  Even if we do not blame someone else or something else for these murders, shouldn't we at least try to determine what caused the person to perpetrate such a crime?  Then, hopefully, we could take future actions to correct that which causes a person to do it.

Unfortunately it's just not that easy.  The path that each person takes to such a horrific act is as varied as the number of people who commit them.  But it always progresses from one sin to another, each one taking the person further and further into evil and debauchery.

The rate at which a person moves through this process is different for each individual, but it always follows this pattern:

Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then when evil desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

So the genesis for every sin is in the mind.  Every action begins with a thought.  And if we give our evil thoughts free reign, then unspeakable evil can take place within the mind of a person.  From there, it may never proceed to action, but then again, it does sometimes.  And when it does, we are shocked at the extent to which sinful thoughts can take a person.

It is for this reason that we often have no warning before a person commits these terrible crimes: we don't understand the connection between sinful desires and overt actions.

The difficulty of comprehending this connection is exacerbated in our culture today because we have such great difficulty identifying sin and evil.  What God calls sin, our culture calls a disease.  What God says is an abomination, our culture takes pride in and celebrates.  Concerning the sins that bring us into bondage and destroy relationships, our culture says we just need to make sure we do them safely.

Strangely, the people who sin think that they are free to do whatever they want to do, but the opposite is actually true.  The more they sin, the less freedom they have and the more enslaved they become.  If any of us allows ourselves to ruminate on thoughts that are evil, we are soon sinning in our minds.  And if we do it long enough, we will surrender control to the sin that enslaves us.

Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)

Well, if we can do little, if anything, to predict and prohibit such heinous acts, why doesn't God stop them?

Surely God could stop this; why doesn't he?

This is the question that even irreligious people seem to ask at times of devastation and destruction.  Where was God?  Why didn't he step in and stop this madman?  Doesn't he care about the children?

First of all, we need to remind ourselves that God has created us not as puppets whose every move he controls.  He has created us with the privilege and responsibility of free choice.  It was that way in the Garden of Eden, and it has been so ever since.

But, obviously, this doesn't mean that God cannot step in and stop people from evil acts, if he wants to.  Clearly, as God, he is omnipotent, and he can do whatever he wants to do according to that which is consistent with his nature and purposes.

Do we have any evidence that God has selectively stepped into human history and stopped the actions of a madman?  Has God ever turned back the advance of a nation's enemies?  Yes, he has done things like this, but it has always been in response to the prayers of the people and their leaders.  

Around 700 B.C. Sennacherib, king of the mighty Assyrian army, laid siege to Jerusalem.  He had already successfully conquered at least a dozen other cities in the region, and boasted that no god of any people could stand against him.  Under the leadership of King Hezekiah, the people of Jerusalem prepared for the siege as best they could, and then humbled themselves in prayer, asking God to deliver them.  God did step in, and gave them a miraculous victory, taking the lives of 185,000 in the enemies' army.

When a nation has turned away from God, and he has warned them of impending judgment, if they have humbled themselves and prayed, God has responded with mercy.

When Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was told in a dream and by the words of the prophet Daniel, that he should humble himself before God, he spurned the divine warnings.  He boasted of his greatness, and God allowed him to become a lunatic, living like an animal for seven years.  Then he came to his senses, gave God the honor that is due him, and God restored him to his position as king of the most powerful nation on earth.

God said that because of the evil that was rampant among the people of Assyria, he would bring an end to the capitol city of Nineveh.  When Jonah came and preached of God's imminent judgment upon the great city, from the king on down, all the people humbled themselves and prayed for God's mercy.  God answered their prayers and stepped in to stop his promised destruction.

Numerous other similar examples could be proffered, demonstrating that God often steps in to come to the aid of peoples that humbly call out to him.  However, there are no biblical examples of God coming to the aid of peoples or nations who arrogantly defy and deny him.

While there are, without a doubt, godly people in our nation that are crying out to God for his mercy on our country, they would appear to be a small minority.  The evidence suggests that at every level, our people and our governments are capitulating to the voices of the vocal few who are demanding the removal of God and his words from nearly everything that is in the public view.  We are a nation that is saying: "God is only welcome and appropriate in buildings where churches meet."5

Even though our leaders may mention the name of God from time to time, and may quote from the scriptures, they do not appear to fear God.  It seems that they fear the people who are threatening lawsuits or the possible lack of voter support, more than they fear the God who sustains their lives and before whom they will stand and give an account some day.

To fear God is to give humble respect and honor to him.  The historical records seem to indicate that there was a time in the early history of our nation when God was feared by the majority of our leaders.  People cared more about what God thought than they did about what people thought.  They dared not go against the will and words of God.  They wanted his approval and blessing, and so sought to honor him and thank him.6

The scriptures explicitly tell us what happens to a people who do not fear God.

Since the creation of the world God's invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:20-22)

This scripture text goes on to indicate that, as a people refuse to fear God, he gives them over to the natural consequences of their arrogant attitudes.  Things become progressively worse as he gives them over to "the evil desires of their hearts," then to "degrading passions," and finally to "a depraved mind."  Here is the description of their final state:

They are filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)

When a people refuse to honor God and give him thanks, they will pay the price for their arrogance.  Our nation has progressively and unstintingly pushed God away.7  While he is still near to everyone who humbly obeys him and cries out to him, he is far from those who do not fear him.

In fact, I am convinced that God is laughing at America!

Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!" He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. (Psalm 2:1-4)

Is the Lord laughing at our calamity?  No, he is laughing at our arrogance!  We think we can push God away, and be free of the laws he has given to govern us.  What we don't understand (since "professing to be wise, we have become fools"), when we humbly submit to God and his words we are free; when we push God and his laws away, we come under bondage to sin and its accompanying evil.

We chuckle when we see a child who thinks he has the knowledge and ability to do something that we know is beyond his capabilities.  We lovingly warn the child to not attempt what he is not capable of doing, since he might hurt himself.  God laughs at us, because we think we know more than he does, and don't need him.  God lovingly warns us that we shouldn't try to pursue what he knows will harm us.

How can we we stop having God laugh at us, and rather have pity upon us and help us?  We find the answer in the same psalm:

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that he not become angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in him! (Psalm 2:10-12)

God won't force his way into our hearts or the hearts of our leaders.  We must each invite him to take up residence and exercise authority in our lives and in our nation.  Until there is a movement back to God in this way, we can expect even more tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary — and even worse!

But, on the other hand...if we will follow the words of God, spoken to Solomon, and the attitude exhibited by the people of Nineveh, we may yet again experience the blessings of God upon our nation.  It occurred for a while after 9-11, but we have such short memories.  We seem to turn to God when things get really bad, but sadly, we forget so quickly.

Here is that promise of God made to Solomon:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)8

1 John 8:34

2 Some people say that God didn't accept Cain's offering because it was not a blood sacrifice.  This is contrary to the teachings of the scriptures.  This kind of misunderstanding comes from reading the teachings of later scriptures back into earlier ones.  There is no record of God establishing requirements for offerings in Adam's day.  The essence of an acceptable offering is found in the psalmist's words: For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

3 John 16:8-11

4 Consider this description of life on earth just prior to the Flood.  It gives a perspective on how evil people can become.  The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:5,11-12)

5 And even this is often not true, if the church desires to meet in a residence.

6 To those who may question these statements, I offer here a link to a website that provides the benefit of considerable research into the writings of America's founding fathers, highlighting their views on Jesus, Christianity, and Bible.

7 I am not suggesting that we need laws to place scripture verses on judicial buildings, manger scenes in courthouse yards, or administration-led prayers in public schools.  What we need is an attitude change: people and leaders, at every level, who are not afraid to show honor, respect, and gratefulness to God.

8 Clearly, this is a promise made to the people of Israel, but from the example of God's mercy shown to Nineveh, as they humbled themselves at the preaching of Jonah, we can assume that God will similarly be merciful to our country if we likewise humble ourselves before him.

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