What type of attitude should Christians have towards the world? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? There’s a case to be made for both sides. Our Father is Lord over all. There’s not a molecule in the universe which is not under his authority. He claims all, and owns all. When bad things happen they do so because they fit into his plan. As I’ve noted before--citing the cases of Joseph, Moses, and of course the Passion of our Lord--God doesn’t just accomplish his plans in spite of the Enemy’s best efforts. He accomplishes them because of the Enemy’s best efforts.
But there’s a dark side to knowledge of the world as well. John tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Anyone who needs convincing of the doctrine of human sinfulness only needs to pick up a newspaper—sorry, I’m showing my age: They only need to read a news feed off the Net.
When I read today’s passage, I have mixed feelings. First off, we need to acknowledge that today’s story is not typical. Unfortunately, most bloody dictators die of old age rather than direct divine intervention like this.
But incidents like this do happen, and some tyrants fall violently, even if by human hands rather than by invisible ones. Hitler is the obvious example. You can also read about some of them in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
Do I wish that God intervened more directly in human affairs? Part of me does. I read about human rights violations in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia or North Korea or China. I know that there are siblings in Christ right now who are being imprisoned and tortured. I know that there are plenty of blasphemers and false teachers and opponents of the Good News who are leading people astray.
But there’s another part of me that wants him to hold off. Why? For the same reason that Scripture gives. Why doesn’t the Lord just step in give people what they deserve? “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Every moment that he withholds judgment is a chance to for you to repent.
For the time being, he’s working behind the scenes. He usually doesn’t operate out in the open like he did during the Exodus or the time of Joshua. He works through his Church to plead with people to receive his Son before he finally decides to step in.
But every once in a while he gives all of us a little reminder like he does here. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Herod endured horrible pain for five days before he died. Yes, Herod died because he didn’t give glory to God. But he also stands as a neon sign to each one of us: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Another lesson we can learn from this is found in vs. 24: “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” Herod murdered James at the beginning of chapter 12. He could imprison the messengers all he wanted. But eventually he died, and the Message continued to spread. The enemies of the truth come and go. They strike the Bride over and over. But the word of God continues to increase and spread.
So when you see injustice in the world and the Church being struck, take heart. Our Father really is in charge, and he really does know what he’s doing.
Father God, I trust you. I praise you that all of your enemies will one day be destroyed. But I also thank you that you prefer to destroy your enemies by turning them into your beloved children. I can certainly testify to that.