13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.Matthew 2:13, 16
Whether or not this was the fulfillment of a prophecy, this is a horrible part of the story. The thought of hundreds if not thousands of kids being murdered because Herod lost his mind is appalling.
This teaching, though, gives us an opportunity to learn some important lessons. The first being that God wasn’t surprised by this. Matthew 1:18 is a quote from Jeremiah 31:15, written hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. God knew what was going to happen. When bad things happen in the world, God is never caught off guard. The worst atrocities, though they break His heart, do not surprise God.
Nor do they scare Him. Besides being evil, what is the other thing the most evil rulers in history have in common? They’re all dead. While their rule was horrible, it was not eternal. God is not just eternal in lifespan, he is infinite in power. God is not caught off guard by the evil of humanity.
But it brings up the question, why does God use evil things? Why is there so much evil in the world? Why does God allow evil?
This is a tough question, and I certainly don’t want to minimize it with a pithy answer, which is what this is going to seem like. But the answer is because of love. “Wait, what, love?”
God created humans with free will. At least in part because He wanted people who chose to love Him and worship Him. The problem with giving people a choice is that they choose. If I ask you whether you believe apples are better than oranges, you are free to choose and the consequences aren’t too devastating. But, If I ask you whether you believe it’s okay to murder a 2 year old boy the consequences of choosing could be devastating.
Unfortunately, those are the consequences of free will. Sometimes people make evil choices. God could have made us so it was impossible for us to choose to murder a child in the same way it’s impossible for us to fly by our own ability, but then we wouldn’t be truly free to choose, would we?
The reason there is evil in the world is because there are people in the world. Our hearts constantly choose selfish things over God things. And the results range from political division to war and annihilation.
Still, the truth remains: “No matter the circumstances, God is never not in charge.” It may seem like things are out of control at the moment, but none of this is a surprise to God in the same way God wasn’t surprised by Herod’s evil actions.
In the end, God used Herod’s evil decision to fulfill other prophecies. All of which made it clear that God was in the process of keeping his promise. He sent the Messiah who – when faced with the option to choose evil made a different choice, one that would change the entire story of humanity – He chose love.