Today I’m writing about paranoia.
By paranoia I don’t mean the clinical diagnoses, but common anxiety experienced to an uncommon degree. I mean excessive worry. I mean the fantasies that run amok in our waking thoughts, causing remote possibilities to become pressing problems necessitating drastic action.
Paranoia causes panic.
The Magi confronted Herod and warned him of a newborn King of the Jews. Herod was already an old, sick man when the Magi visited. Even if a new King had been born, Herod was guaranteed to be long gone before this child could ever pose a threat to his power. Herod cared very little for his biological children—he murdered 3 of them—and was always more likely to perceive them as threats to his power rather than heirs to his legacy. So. It’s unlikely Herod was worried about the newborn King threatening his heirs either.
Truly, that kid wasn’t a threat to anybody.
The nearest threat was that a newborn King might embolden the Parthian Empire to strike against Judea while Herod was still alive, seeking to gain some revenge for the debacle that awarded Herod power in the first place.
But even that threat was remote, since the Parthians were only just beginning to move into Judea with the arrival of the Magi. They knew Herod was almost dead. They just had to wait him out.
Which, again, means the baby in the manger was no threat to anyone.
Except in Herod’s mind.
In Herod’s mind the child was a usurper.
In Herod’s mind the child was unifying his enemies and preparing an invasion.
In Herod’s mind the child’s every breath was stolen from Herod’s lips.
In Herod’s mind the child had to die.
Bethlehem probably only had about two dozen baby boys alive during the nativity season. So Herod killed them all, just to be sure he removed the threat. He believed such drastic action was justified in defense of his power.
But it wasn’t.
Our dark imagination often runs away with us. We imagine circumstances are worse than they really are. We imagine threats where there are none. We let our minds run away with us, positing worst-case scenarios divorced from reality.
True—we aren’t like Herod, not in terms of scale or depth-of-madness.
But, also true—we are like Herod when we let our thoughts deceive us about the true nature of power, security, and what must be done to justify our safety.
But some things can never be justified.
There are some moral absolutes.
We can all agree that babies should never be killed. Right? Or have we found justification for that too?
We can all agree that murder in service to power is inexcusable. Right? Or do we suspect these killings happen frequently?
We can all agree that Christ would never be harmed in our lives. Right? Or, like Herod, do we find him too much of a threat to survive in us?
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com