Young 20-somethings stood in line to speak with me after my workshop, “Is Christianity Good for Women?” They thanked me for tackling difficult passages in Scripture involving violence against women and asked me the expected questions about gender roles in marriage and the family. When I got to the third person in line—a young, beautiful girl, her hair falling in tousled waves—she bent closer and spoke in a low voice.
“What do you think about forgiveness?” she asked. “What role does that play in cases of sexual abuse and rape?” I suspected that she had a story of pain, betrayal, and shame. Although she didn’t tell me the full story that day (the line was long behind her), she did tearfully admit that the counsel offered to her had been to simply forgive the perpetrator. “I still feel angry,” she confessed. “Is that wrong?”
It’s one of the most important questions to ask, especially as the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements carry us in their angry tides. It’s also an important question to ask when stories like Jules Woodson’s surface and members of Highpoint Church in Memphis stand in solidaritywith her perpetrator.
When women suffer violence in the Scriptures, we see God’s own righteous—if also oblique—anger. Sometimes we see divine outrage in the demise of a character, as in the case of King David. I’m not thinking of the way he forcibly took Bathsheba into his bed, although that story, ending in the death of the baby, draws its own conclusions.
Instead, I’m thinking of his daughter, Tamar, who is raped by his son, Amnon (2 Sam 13). David’s anger is impotent and weak, and he visits no judgment on Amnon. Because of his father’s inaction, another son, Absalom, avenges his sister’s humiliation by murder. An entire family splinters because of a father’s failure to show outrage. The story very clearly illustrates that this—and by this, I mean both the violence and the muteness—must never be done.
Another way that Scripture communicates God’s outrage over violence against women is through the words of various people in the narrative. In Genesis 20, for example, Abraham has lied to Abimelek and claimed that Sarah is his sister rather than his wife, a lie that permits Abimelek to take Sarah into his harem and have her at his will.
However, before he touches her, God visits Abimelek in a dream, warning him that under penalty of death, he’s taken another man’s wife. When Abimelek confronts Abraham with his “great sin,” he accuses, “You have done to me things that ought not to be done” (Gen. 20:9). God speaks his own anger through Abimelek.
Admittedly, there are too many instances in the Scriptures where the weakness of men either commit women into the hands of violence or fail to clearly execute justice when the violence is discovered: Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26); Jacob and Dinah (Gen. 34); the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19).
These stories are crushing for women, some of whom interpret the silence in certain passages as God’s indifference to their own suffering. They wonder if the God of the Bible can be trusted. Even more difficult, when these passages are excised from the preaching calendar, women are left wondering about a proper response to sexual violence. Can’t room be made for the psalmist’s command, picked up later by the apostle Paul, to “be angry and do not sin” (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26, ESV)? Isn’t our task to “act justly and to love mercy” at the very same time (Micah 6:8)?
The #MeToo movement certainly hasn’t gotten everything right, but it is pushing the church, quite rightly, to seek a more biblical framework for understanding the role of righteous anger, justice, and forgiveness, especially in the context of sexual violence.
I’ve seen firsthand how this framework can be seriously mishandled.
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Source: Christianity Today