Has God abandoned those who suffer pain, who experience abuse, or who don’t have adequate shelter or enough to eat? Are His favourites those with perfect-looking lives? Does God’s grace look like plenty, emotional wellness and physical health?
I don’t think so.
Blogger Christine Eberle recently posted a reflection on the pairing of two readings in liturgy used by her church. I want to share her thoughts with you (with her permission), because I think you will be as touched by them as I was.
The choice of readings for today’s Mass perplexed me. December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, as recounted in Matthew 2:13-18. It’s a grim feast that comes three days after Christmas every year.
On the day we remember the Bethlehem boys aged two-and-under slaughtered by Herod in an unhinged, prophylactic power grab, the Church pairs that account with Psalm 124, beginning with these words:
Had not the LORD been with us,
when people rose against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive,
for their fury blazed against us.
Then the waters would have engulfed us,
the torrent overwhelmed us.
How is a psalm praising God for rescue appropriate on the day we remember murdered children? The Matthew account itself cites Jeremiah’s agonizing description of “Rachel weeping for her children,” refusing to be consoled. No wonder, if this is the thin consolation offered: that someone else’s child was saved. Mary and Joseph’s child, yes, but still a nightmare to the grieving parents.
The psalm smacks us right up against theodicy and the problem of evil. “Had not the LORD been with us . . .” What does that imply? Was God not with the toddlers of Bethlehem? How do we praise God for rescue (which we should, if rescued) without implying that those who perished were somehow abandoned, unworthy?
There’s a song called “I Know Something About God’s Grace” whose theology drives me batty. The lyrics begin: I know something about God’s grace; I know something about God’s amazing grace.” So far, so good; then it runs off the rails. “It could have been me with no food to eat; it could have been me with no place to sleep, if not for the grace of God.” I know it’s a musical riff on the common expression “There but for the grace of God . . . ” And yet . . . those guys sleeping on the steam vents in downtown Philly—are they devoid of grace? Or are they wrapped in it?
Maybe the problem is with our casual use of the word “grace.” Do we believe that God’s unmerited favor comes in the form of this-worldly bonuses like a Christian comp & benefits package? Or is grace more interior, like a spiritual attitude adjustment? OR is grace what holds us up every single day, whether we’re aware of it or not?
I think we’re wrapped in His grace, held up in each moment of each day, whether it’s easy or hard, whether we know it or not. In the moments when you feel alone, question His goodness and perceive the world as bleak and hostile, allow yourself to rest in the truth that He is near. You are wrapped in His grace. Whether you feel it or not, He is holding you.