Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.” (Matthew 2:16–18 NLT)
When a key member of the congregation at Disciples Church in Folsom, California, shared they were struggling with agnosticism, a number of other people also raised their hands to say they were in the same place. Rather than responding in a way that is too often more typical of the local church – shutting down any hints of unbelief, starting up a Bible study on the fundamentals of the faith, or even simply ignoring that people are wrestling with these truths – out of this interaction, Disciples chose to lean into what God was doing in their midst, even though it meant deliberately stepping into difficult conversations with people who weren’t going to accept easy answers.
They started hosting a monthly gathering they call Sacred Conversations. Anyone is invited to join the discussion as they wrestle together through the mysteries of God, doubt, and disbelief. It is a space where hard questions are encouraged, even if they don’t always have clean answers attached to them. For many, they have nowhere else they can work through these questions with other people, so these monthly conversations are a gift of space and companionship in the journey. For others, they have few to no doubts about God, but they still find something life-giving in the conversations.
As Christians, it can be easy for us to settle for the pat answers even when we know there are some mysteries that cannot be solved this side of eternity and some truths that seem incongruous with one another. The murder of the young boys around Bethlehem is one of those passages we so often pass over or simply ignore because we don’t know what to do with it or how it fits into the family friendly Nativity narrative we like to tell. Yet, Matthew understood it to be an important piece of the story, otherwise he would not have included it.
Often when we accept the easy answer without putting in the work of wrestling with the hard questions, we shortchange ourselves out of the spiritual formation that can take place in the process. The next time God stirs something up in you – whether it’s a difficult passage of Scripture, a deep truth about God or his story you have struggled with, or some other mystery of God, doubt, or disbelief – take as much time as you need to work through it with God and others, pulling into the conversation people you can trust to not shortcut the process.