Last Sunday, I returned home from church to a crowd of police and news vehicles at the entrance to our colony. There had been a triple murder the night before where an elderly couple and their nursing attendant were killed in cold blood. Someone had entered their house, strangled and then stabbed them, and all this a few blocks away from our house while we slept through the night. The news was horrific and shocking and what I read about everyday happening somewhere else was suddenly happening right around the corner.
The last couple of months have been full of close encounters with dark stories personally. Stuff that normally happens out there suddenly reaching a little too close for comfort; stories of ugly betrayal, relationships turning unbearably messy, dark secrets being exposed, physical, emotional, sexual abuse within close relationships and with nothing resolving or showing any hopes of resolving. Usually I am quick to find the silver lining, to see the glimmers of hope, to shine the light of all that I know to be true from Scripture into hard situations. But I’m finding it difficult to shine that light in the midst of these stories.
This month’s theme at IndiAanya has been favourite Bible stories and favourite Bible characters. But my heart has been resisting stories that resolve and what I’ve been drawn to lately are the dark stories in the Bible. The stories that are hard to read, that bring up hard emotions, that go from bad to worse, and where everyone fails.
The darkest story for me personally is the story told in 2 Samuel 13, the story of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon is David’s firstborn son who is in love lust with his half-sister Tamar, the sister of Absalom. Amnon is sick with frustration because there is no way he can satisfy his lust. But he has a crafty friend and cousin who devises a plan to get him alone with her.
As soon as he is alone with her, he asks her to sleep with him. Tamar responds to his outrageous demand by offering a solution (possibly buying time) that does not humiliate her or bring shame on them both. She pleads with him to ask David the king, their father, for her in marriage and though it wasn’t legal, there could be a possibility of the king allowing it.
Amnon refuses and rapes her and the text says that right after abusing and violating her, he “hated her with a very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” (2 Samuel 13:15) He proceeds to send her away from him and she begs him not to. Not because she wants to be with him, but because she knows that the shame brought on her by being sent away will be worse even than the act of rape. She pleads with him to do what is right by law and marry her, but he refuses and throws her out, refusing to even acknowledge her name…she simply becomes “this woman” who needs to be out of his life and never serve as a reminder of his actions. Tamar leaves, tearing her clothes, ashes on her head, crying loudly, living the rest of her days as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom's house.
Outwardly, Absalom does not do anything immediately, but inwardly he is consumed with hatred for Amnon, his half-brother, for raping and violating his sister. He is possibly waiting for his father to do something and he waits for two full years before he acts on his rage and kills Amnon. He flees from the kingdom leaving his father to deal with the loss of two sons.
There are a number of things going on in the story but the question at the heart of it (and the question the text points to) is this - where is David, the father, the king, in all of this? The text says in verse 21 that when David heard all this he was furious. For the first time in my reading of this passage I read the footnote to the verse that adds, “but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn.” My blood boiled when I read that! It’s worse enough to read a story of incest, rape, and murder, but to read that the person who should have stood up and done something, does nothing.
The king is silent in the face of great injustice in his own family. So much so that it leads to events that spell doom for the rest of his reign and for the rest of Israel’s history and a continuation of the downward spiral that began with the adultery and murder that he himself was guilty of with Bathsheba and Uriah.
I have sat with this story for a while now, mourning the events that unfold. Mourning the wickedness of the human heart, the consequences of abuse and disordered desires, the repercussions of inaction, the messiness of family, which is supposed to be good and safe. Mourning for Tamar, and the many Tamars I know who have been used, abused, ravaged, and violated; for Absalom, and the Absaloms I know who act in rage and take matters into their own hands because the people in authority are silent or absent; for Amnon, and the Amnons I know who allow their disordered desires to take control of their lives and violate those around them; for David, and the Davids I know who stay silent and do not step up to the roles and responsibilities they are called to.
Mourning this story has shown me the importance of mourning in the midst of the dark stories that engulf us. It is a healthy discipline to mourn and grieve over sin, over messiness, over abuse, over the darkness that surrounds us and is within us. For the seeds of the greatest wickedness we see around us rest within our hearts as well, for within all of us lives something of Tamar, Absalom, Amnon, and David.
The dark stories of the Bible help us mourn the human condition and they help us mourn our own condition. It is only when we have mourned deeply in the night that we can fully appreciate the joy that comes with the light in the morning.
It has been a new thing for me to take the time to sit with this darkness and not feel the urge to quickly sweep my mind over to the light, though it’s there and I can see the sliver around the corner.
While there does not really seem to be any sliver of light in this story, the thread of hope that beckons me to move forward is that much further on, God does what David doesn’t do. He stands up against injustice, violence, wickedness, and all the horror of sin, by punishing His own Son, the firstborn over all creation, who is graciously given up for us all. He delivers us from the domain of darkness and brings us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, the true King whose light shines in the darkness; the darkness cannot overcome Him, and through Him we are brought into the story that ends in glorious light.
This is the stuff great stories are made of and echoed in the words of Sam to Frodo in second movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”