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“Refusing to be Comforted” – Secret Keepers Book 1 – Chapter 1

A Study Guide Companion to the Novel

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping, and Great Mourning;
Weeping for her children,
and Refusing to be Comforted,
because they were no more.
~Matthew 2:18

As Christians, or just as people living in a “civilized” society today, we hear it all the time:

Forgive and forget. Let it go. Move on…

We hear also:

Your life is what you make it. You can choose to make something of yourself. Hard work will pay off. Take responsibility for yourself—that’s what matters.

God helps those who help themselves…

The idea behind clichés like “forgive and forget” and platitudes like “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” is the same. If we can just put aside the things that we don’t like, just push through hardship, just move on from tragedy and loss, all will be well.

Mindset over matter.

Keep your head down. Keep working.

Forgive, forget, move on.

As Christians, we’re even told this is godly, righteous, good…

And there is, of course, great wisdom in all the phrases that I have mentioned here.

But might somethings be just too big, too bad, too important to be forgotten?

Is it possible that, in some cases, the right thing to do is stand resolute, stop there in the middle of everything else, and scream?

Or weep… refusing to be comforted…

Secret Keepers Book 1 Study Guide Companion - Chapter 1

The Verse Again:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping, and Great Mourning;
Weeping for her children,
and Refusing to be Comforted,
because they were no more.
~Matthew 2:18

I have always found this verse from Matthew to be one of the most powerful statements in the entire bible.

But some important things to know first…

Rachel was the mother of two men: Joseph (not Jesus’s father Joseph, but the much earlier one from the book of Genesis) and Benjamin.

The people living in the city of Bethlehem—where Jesus was born—were supposed to be descended from one or another of these two men.

In other words, the “Rachel” mentioned in Matthew 2:18 is the great ancestress of—theoretically—everyone living in Bethlehem at the time when Jesus was born.

Everyone—Jesus, Mary, and (Jesus’s father) Joseph included.

The “Rachel” who weeps in this passage—the mother who refuses to be comforted—is, symbolically, the mother of everyone in Bethlehem.

And this symbolic mother weeps, here, over the death of her children.

The context:

About a year or two after Jesus was born, Herod, the insane king of Israel, heard a rumor—that another “king” had been born in the city of Bethlehem.

History Note:

Herod is a historical figure who ruled the Roman protectorate, Israel, at the turn of the first century A.D. He was only part Jewish by birth, put in power by the Romans, a sympathizer with Rome throughout his rule, and therefore disliked by the people of Israel. His rule was violent, and much of the violence appears to be his own doing. Many of his own family members met with sudden deaths under convenient or mysterious circumstances. His paranoia, especially toward the end of his life when Jesus would have been born, is well-documented.

And so, naturally, Herod responded to this rumor by doing what any power-mad, paranoid world leader would do. He sent his army to deal with the immanent threat that this two-year-old peasant boy presented to his own power.

That is, he sent his army to kill every male child under the age of two living in the city of Bethlehem.

A Great Tragedy

There is no single word, in any language, capable of capturing to full scope of such a pointless, horrific tragedy. It is, quite literally, an unspeakable thing.

Instead of labeling the event, therefore, the writer of Matthew’s Gospel quotes a verse from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD,
‘A voice is heard in Ramah.
Most bitter weeping.
Rachel weeping,
on account of her children—
refusing to be comforted, on account of her children—
because they are not.’
~Jeremiah 31:15

Few images are more haunting in the human psyche than that of a grieving mother.

Throughout history, this one image has been used to represent the great depth of human sorrow.

But something else makes this passage particularly powerful, something that has captured my attention since I was a very small child.

The mother Rachel here does not just weep…

She refuses to be comforted.

She does not seek vengeance.

History Note:

Ramah was a city in the same area as Bethlehem. Like Bethlehem, its population was supposed to be descended from the sons of Rachel.

She does not go on her own murderous rampage.

But she also does not hide her grief.

She makes her grief known, throws her pain back at those who wronged her, and refuses to be silenced.

Refuses to be comforted.

As Christians, we are taught to think of God as our comfort. The great hope of Christianity is, after all, a better world in which, one day, all tragedy, and all the need for grieving, will be no more.

History Note

When Jeremiah spoke of Rachel weeping for her sons, he may well have been thinking of another great tragedy: When Israel’s first king, Saul, killed a group of priests in the city of Ramah.

Like Herod, king Saul was likely clinically insane at the time. He killed these priests, and then their families, including their infant children, moreover, because they had helped a young man named David—a man whom Saul, in his paranoia, was convinced was trying to usurp his throne.

Though David never had any intention of betraying Saul, he did eventually become king. Two of David’s very distant descendants—Mary and Joseph—would later become the parents of Jesus. Jesus who, early in his life, fled the city Bethlehem to escape the paranoid jealousy of another insane king. Both stories point to the tragedy of great power leading to great corruption, and the great suffering of innocence.

But in this passage, Matthew, and Jeremiah before him, remind us—

We are not in that better world yet…

In this world, there is still tragedy. There are still great evils, still power mad, insane kings…

And the day we begin to ignore these evil realities, is the day that Evil itself wins.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

Forgetting does not.

There is nothing godly about forgetting the evils that have been done, or looking the other way when tragedies occur. There are things that we cannot and should not move on from, times when the right thing is to refuse to let life go back to normal.

Times when we are called to stand firm and to say: No, this was wrong. No, I will not forget. No, I will not be comforted. Because there are times when our grief is the only power that we have.

And maybe, someday, our grief over what is truly evil might just change the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Chapter 1 ends in a great tragedy—What is it? Why does it happen? And how do the Secret Keepers Respond?
  2. Can you think of any similar events in your own history, or in the world at large today?
  3. How would you respond, or have you responded, to something like the tragedy of Kohar? (Honesty is in your best interest here.)
  4. How would you like or hope you would respond—or, what do you think the right response is?
  5. How do you think God would want you to respond? And WHY?

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