A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Massacre of the Innocents Smackdown

Christian bloggers, James McGrath and Tony Jones may be heading toward a friendly smackdown over the historicity of Herod's massacre of the children of Bethlehem. James, who wrote his post first, states,
Aren't you glad that we have no reason to think that this story Matthew tells actually happened?
Instead, we can attribute it to the shortcomings of Matthew. And we can take a lesson from it.
Real life includes murders and tragedies – like that which happened in reality at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut recently, and like that depicted in story in Matthew's Gospel.
But when we insert God as a character and say that God acted to save some, we turn God into a monster who chooses for inscrutable reasons to spare some but lead others to the slaughter.
Tony responds,

Like many liberals, he brushes off the deeper implications of the text in order to assuage his modern sensibilities...
You see, that's exactly what happens when you dismiss the terrifying texts of the Bible as non-literal myths. YOU SILENCE THE VICTIMS!
It's true that we don’t know how many infant boys Herod murdered. We don't know if it was just the sons of a couple families, a village, or a whole territory. But does it matter?!? Innocent infants were killed. They were not myths. They were not fables. They were babies!
James wants to mythologize this story because that lets God off the hook. If it's a myth, then it means that God didn't work to save Joseph's family while allowing other families to suffer infanticide. But this is what happens every day, every time a baby dies — of a genetic disorder or in a car accident or at the hands of a murderous madman — God, it seems, protects one and does not protect the other.
For what it's worth I'm with Tony on this. Yes, it is difficult to comprehend why some live and others die, but to suggest that God must save all or save none not only takes us in the direction of deism, it turns God into the Great Bureaucrat in the Sky who acts more according to standard procedure than in dynamic relationship.

In Jesus Christ, God gives us his real presence and enters the midst of the muck and mire of the human situation in all of its mess and malady. In an analogical sense Incarnation is God rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty in order to lift us out of the muck and the mess.

No doubt, James will respond to Tony's critique.



Mike said...

I'm with you and Tony on this. The God described in Scripture doesn't stand aloof. God gets those divine finger nails dirty. The incarnation was nothing if not God condescending to be in our 'reality.' Including the ugliness of innocent victims dying.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Yes, indeed, Mike. God is not above the blood and tears of human history.

James F. McGrath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James F. McGrath said...

I already did: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/12/am-i-wrong-about-the-massacre-of-the-innocents.html

I don't disagree with Tony's theological point. But I don't think that such theological concerns can be a legitimate basis for asserting the historicity (or non-historicity, for that matter) of an event.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for responding.

I agree that theological concerns are not necessarily legitimate for asserting the historicity of any event. I do have a concern, however, that we have drawn much too sharp a line between theology and history. Events have meaning. And if we believe that God reveals himself in history, then at some point history does matter in reference to our theological claims. Does this mean that everything reported in the Gospels has to have happened? Of course not, and I don't think the massacre of the innocents is one of those necessary historical events, though I don't rule out the event as having actually occurred.