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The world is a bleak place these days. Long about the time one had gotten used to having an abiding sadness and sickness over the war in Ukraine, along comes a bloody war in the Middle East. Maybe it’s just me but it feels like the ferocity of this one is more intense. It started with the indiscriminate act of terror by Hamas in which so many men, women, children, and infants died unexpectedly in the blink of an eye. Now Israel has been using its sizable stockpile of weapons to flatten Gaza and if these attacks are not as unexpected as the initial one by Hamas, they are every bit as indiscriminate. The images of weeping fathers cradling very small wrapped bundles have been ripping my heart out day after day.
For most of us I suspect that the suffering and death of children always feels like the height of evil. Some years ago it was the image of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi that woke up the world to a refugee crisis after the tyke’s little body washed ashore in Turkey after the rag-tag boat he had been on with his family sank. Yes, the picture of an adult in the same condition would have been sad but it was the spectacle of the little boy in his tiny sneakers, blue shorts, and red-striped shirt that stopped the world in its tracks.
How does God view the death and suffering of children? Maybe there is always a theological danger in projecting onto God our own feelings and reactions. We need to be ever vigilant in not remaking God over in our own image lest the day arrive when we are just sure God agrees with every idea we have on politics or the economy or lifestyle choices, etc. True enough.
But I don’t think we make that theological error in suspecting that for God, too, the death of a child stings God in particular ways. There is simply too much in the Bible to indicate that God does hold a special place in his heart for infants and children. Yes, yes, we could note the low-hanging fruit of Jesus scolding the disciples when they tried to shoo the kiddos away from Jesus. Or how Jesus told the disciples they had to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God.
But there are also those other images of God as divine Parent/Father/Mother nurturing and protecting little ones. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Ps 91:4). Or Jesus in Luke 13: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”
We also get a lot of sentiments like this one from Psalm 72: “May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” And of course from Psalm 103, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” And in Luke 23 on his way to the cross, Jesus says to the women weeping for him, “Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”
In this time of war, God weeps for the children. The children of Ukraine. The children of Israel. The children of Gaza. It is said that when the old die they leave memories but when the young die they leave dreams. Even well outside of war zones, in this country we have seen the deaths of children far too often. Some of us remember that after the slaughter of 1st graders in Newtown, we saw something most people were sure they had never seen in public before: a sitting President of the United States openly shedding tears for the lost babies of Newtown.
No, we cannot always know that God feels about things the same way we do. But we are on more than solid theological ground to assert that when it comes to the death of innocent babies and boys and girls, God does not feel the sorrow of all this less than we do. The God of sorrows feels it more. Lord hasten the day when you will—with tears still in your own eyes—wipe the tears from each of also our faces.