Why, O Lord do you stand so far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? It seems impious to question the will of the divine. But it’s the 10th Psalm. God-given words for us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. It’s a prayer God meant you to utter. It is it hymn God intended you to sing. He actually insists that you ask. Where was God when Herod’s soldiers went house to house slaughtering toddlers? Where is God as the tragedy continues today? Why does He hide in times of trouble? Why does He seem so far away?
After asking, there’s really only two things you can do. Either look to His word, where He speaks to you about it to answer your anger, your pain, and your fear…or you can just assume that He has nothing to say. The Psalm continues, “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” So today, and really every day since the Psalm was written, it seems deep down like we end up spending more time defending God than He spends defending us. It seems like whenever tragedy arises, we need to protect the idea and reputation of God from anybody that might actually look around and say it’s not OK. Everybody questions it, but the tragedy is that the atheists of the world have become more comfortable praying the 10th Psalm than the Christians. They’ll say out loud what we’re afraid to speak. Instead, we come up with a list of reasons why everything is totally OK right now. God only allowed that thing to happen, He didn’t cause it, and that somehow makes it better even though He’s all-powerful and could have stopped it. Here’s some fortune cookie slogan about God’s plan that tries to reframe the situation so it doesn’t sound so horrible. Here’s something besides His word that makes us seem content when we aren’t because deep down, some poem about footprints in the sand or some man-made parable about a bunch of blind guys grabbing hold of an elephant and trying to figure out what it is don’t really do a great job of answering the issue behind every single religion the claims that its god is loving. Why is there evil?
I’d like to imagine Joseph prayed the 10th Psalm as he gave up every single idea of what his life would be like. As he fled his home to protect a kid that wasn’t even his from being slaughtered. This was not a camping trip. He became a refugee. He was like Rachel, who weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted because they are no more. Thousands of voices join hers, together in lament, as Herod slaughters their children. Because an angel didn’t warn them to run. Why do You stand so far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
This is not the time for a cute poem about footprints that you know full well isn’t actually in the Bible. I don’t have any good excuses here. It’s not because God does not explain it. It’s because we don’t really like the answer that He gives. He describes Himself as a God we are not entirely sure that we want. Because we want a God who gives us free will. We want a God who gives us freedom from risk. Freedom to choose. Freedom from injustice. Freedom from suffering. It was everything that King Herod wanted too. He prayed to the god of security and he made rite sacrifices. He wanted to make his own choices. He wanted not to be deposed from his leadership. Not to face hardship. Not to hurt. If I’m being truly honest, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess to you that I can relate more to Herod in the story than I can’t Christ. I want those things too, but my Lord left them all behind. He left behind the glory and security of heaven to be born in a manger, smuggled across borders, only to die on a cross. I don’t think I’m alone. I think most of us would prefer a Herod to a Christ, as long as he’s on our team.
We want security from God every bit as much as we want security from God. I want security apart from His law. Security apart from receiving His sacrament often for my good. I want security apart from having to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. I want security from His wrath when I ignore His word. So we can all recoil at the price that Herod was willing to pay. Maybe even learn something from the fact that even though he made this awful sacrifice to a false god called security, he still died, so it didn’t work. But still, we play the same game on a smaller scale. I don’t know anyone who sacrificed thousands of lives, but statistically more women enter Planned Parenthood for an abortion identifying as Christian than not. And men, spared from having to sacrifice this way to the false god of choice, are every bit as guilty. We find plenty of other ways to chase the very same securities we think we need. All we’re really doing is quibbling over the price we’re willing to pay for them. Because after praying the 10th Psalm, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” We make it ours to fix rather than turning to His word. Just like Rachel, we refuse to be comforted.
But to those who keep reading, the Psalm concludes “The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Your Lord hears the frustrated and desperate pleas when things do not get better. When, for all of our talk a free will, we still can’t control this creation nearly as much as we want. Our God answers. He tells us that Jesus did not stop Herod from mass massacring children, but instead He works salvation even in the middle of it. He entered into this weakness, entered into this tragedy, to carve a path through death to the resurrection. To create a kingdom not bound to getting your way, voting for the proper things, or building a kingdom of this world. To offer a word that confronts the demands of the law with the promises of the gospel.
The slaughter of the unborn is bad. It’s always bad. There are no excuses. There are no justifications. But there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness because Jesus entered into this creation not simply to stop the bad things from happening but bleed and die bearing the weight of the wrath of God for them, for you, so there is forgiveness, life, and salvation for the murdered and murderers alike. It changes the way we frame the debate. Because if your talk about abortion has to do with winners and losers, understand that Christ would fall on the wrong side. Not because He’s wrong, but because He put Himself into the camp that lost. He died on the cross apart from control, apart from security, or any of the other things that we are so desperate for. And we thank Him for it because He died for us.
God did not enter into this creation to fix the things that we messed up by our sin and hope we learn to do better, but to forgive us sinners. It puts the object of our salvation closer to us when things fall apart. That’s where God puts Himself for you. He does not hang it on the other side of making good choices or dangle it in front of those who do the right thing. When we have no good answer, no good explanation, we have the cross. We have forgiveness made real and made ours, rather than explanations and poems about footprints. Because God does not simply dare to be with us in strength to carry us when we are weak. He dares to be with us in weakness himself, to bleed and die for us that we would have more than just a path through this life, but a path into the next. Because explanations are resigned to how things are, but the cross ends in the empty tomb. It changes how we can confront these things that terrify and destroy. We deal with them in the forgiveness of sins. We deal with them in the gospel of life everlasting. We deal with them by looking at ourselves and each other and simply saying your sins are forgiven you. All of your sins are forgiven you because Jesus died for you. Your abortion is forgiven you because Jesus died for are you, and he is risen from the dead.
Herod slaughtered the innocent. Rachel wept and refused to be comforted. Joseph left his home and his life, but he did so in hope. As much as he endured, the Bible never describes him as being scared. Mary either. I’m not saying they weren’t. I’m pretty sure they were terrified, but it didn’t drive them. It didn’t control them. Herod when mad with fear. It did control him. It took over how he made his choices and warped how he saw the world.
As much as he would try and control his kingdom, it was his fear that controlled him. He became bound to that which left him dead in wrath, while Joseph was bound to our Lord who gave comfort even in the midst of affliction and kept him and all who believe into life everlasting. He gives life to those who have lost their own. To slaughtered toddlers, that the faithful would rise free from such pain and tragedy, and also to you. Cling to He who saves us from death by bearing it for us. Stand firm in your baptism and know that God does not stand back from you, but bears His mercy and will for you upon the cross.