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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Contact Interpreter > Archives Wholly Bible > Wholly Bible: Slaughter of the Innocents

Slaughter of the Innocents

By Ray Waddle

I was doing some Advent reading – Isaiah – when news of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, just seven miles away, confronted the whole world with previously unbelievable cruelty, human darkness and grief. I couldn’t concentrate anymore. Isaiah would have to wait, though a phrase lingered: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (Isaiah1:17)

The killings crossed a new line of the unthinkable: The latest deranged American citizen with easy access to guns slaughters first graders. Newtown’s spirit is permanently scarred, and so is that of the United States.

The instinct is to seek answers, reasons. Contemporary society makes it easy to assign blame and feel cozy in our judgments. Blame the cult of violence. Or the culture of permissiveness. Or the power of the gun lobby. Or school security systems. Or gutless politicians. Or a sick society.

For decades this impressively opinionated debate about violence has achieved little more than self-cancellation, reinforcing the status quo of violence. Old Isaiah’s diagnosis endures: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” (Isaiah 1:5)

The latest carnage happened in the middle of Advent, ripping a terrible wound through Christmas prayers and preparations. The sickening news tests the meaning of the season, the point of it all – God with us? God among us? Advent isn’t about candy canes, Santa Claus and false uplift. It’s about whether God came down here or not.

Writer Frederick Buechner has described the wild, frightful, fateful reckoning of the incarnation: “It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.”

Our society faces a different reckoning right now. There are too many ways to feed and exaggerate the power of ego, self-pity, rage, loneliness, paranoia, dreams of revenge and fantasies of apocalypse, aided by a misplaced faith in guns and gunfire. It is a godless madness, and it aims to give death the last word.

Isaiah again: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (Isaiah 1:19)

Nothing will change – a numbed, dead-soul allegiance to bloodshed will prevail – until we feel shame for the sort of society we have allowed this one to become on our watch, and on God’s watch.

I pray I find a way back to Isaiah’s visionary heart: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes.” (Isaiah 1:16)

– Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School. He lives in Bethel, CT.

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