Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Sighs and the Groans

[Warning: this post dives into some dark places and is more experience- than theology-driven. It will discuss rape and violence against women. If these topics are too painful for you, skip and read about New Years or publishing.]

All the sufferings in this world, all the horrors. The injustice. The violence against women and children. Does God see? Does God care?


Yesterday I made the mistake of praying for something, and God answered. I read Ezekiel 8-9, particularly bleak chapters in which God is grieved by the sins of his people. He places a special mark on the foreheads of those who mourn over the evil acts, a mark of protection against coming judgment. I was struck by this, and feel like often I am not grieved enough, so I prayed for God to give me a softness of heart, one that would be moved at the things that move God's own heart. 

Then I went about my day, editing, having lunch, writing. I didn't think much about this prayer, hastily tossed up in the waiting room of my doctor's office. Until I read a few articles about the recent rape and murder of a student in India. And the other rapes and suffering of women there, even since the public outcry.

I had read about the incident already, the way I read most news. I see a blip and read a headline, maybe part of an article. I think, that's so terrible. Then I move on. But yesterday I got stuck down in the horror. I read one article, then another. I cried at my desk. I felt like I might throw up. I was outraged and horrified. I was grieved.

I tucked Lincoln in, still thinking about these things, praying for him to escape the horrors of this world. I went to bed listening to Rob breathe, still thinking about it in the dark. And I remembered my prayer. I had asked God to make me grieve, and grieve I did. But I couldn't shake the darkness, the grief.

I prayed for that young woman, her family.

I prayed for the women in India who have been so deeply violated.

I prayed for the women throughout the world who suffer the same. 

I prayed for children who suffer at the hands of others.

I prayed for victims of human trafficking right here in Houston.

I prayed for God to bring down justice on the heads of those who commit such atrocities.

I prayed for them to suffer.

I prayed for God to help me pray for those wicked men, even them, to repent and find mercy.

Even though I don't want them to find mercy. 

(And I prayed that, too.)


Recently I was struck by the third chapter of Rachel Held Evan's book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She spoke of the suffering of so many women of the Old Testament, women who were raped, killed, torn into pieces. She and a friend held a sort of service, honoring these women, writing their names down and commemorating their losses. About such passages, Evans says, "I have come to regard with some suspicion those who claim that the Bible never troubles them. I can only assume this means they haven't actually read it."

These passages have always bothered me the way they bothered her. Often in reading the Bible, I have honestly questioned whether God cares for women. So many of them suffered, while God seemed busy sending his Spirit on warrior men and kings.

Before I really understood who this Jesus person was, I heard the Old Testament stories in Sunday school and I resented them. There were always these men, who apparently were heroes, yet they did so many screwed-up things. Abraham, passing off his wife as his sister and letting her be taken into the Pharaoh's house. Solomon, thought to have written Song of Songs, a real love story about one woman, had something like 700 concubines. David, the great king and warrior and poet, did such a poor job paying attention to his children that his daughter was raped in his own home by her half-brother.

Was I supposed to honor these "greats" of the faith? To be like them?

The Old Testament is often troubling. Unlike the letters of the New Testament, which may have difficult parts, but clearly lay out their point of view, much of the Old Testament is narrative. A narrative without a narrator breaking into every story and saying, "And David shouldn't have done that--God was displeased." It is not stories of people we should try to be like.  It is the story of a fallen people and the holy God who pursues them.

Sometimes God intervenes into the story and has his say, but so often, he is silent. Silent where I wish he would speak.


Hagar, besides having a name that sounds ugly, had the misfortune to be a servant to Abram and Sarai. When Sarai couldn't conceive, she passed Hagar on to her husband. This was a custom of the day, and meant that the baby would be considered a legitimate heir to Abram and Sarai.

The relationship already lacked trust (after Abram passed of Sarai TWICE as his sister), and a pregnant servant did nothing to help it. Hagar despised Sarai, who went to her husband and made it his business: "May the Lord judge between you and me." He gave her leave to do as she pleased, so Sarai mistreated Hagar.

Hagar fled to the desert.

There, God came and spoke to her, making promises that her son would be father of many descendants. (A wild donkey of a man, but I think Hagar stopped listening after hearing the many descendants part.) She gave God this name: the God Who Sees Me.

Hagar was a servant. A lowly woman. Though her son had many descendants, he was not the one God chose to bring forth HIS nation. Yet God came down and found Hagar in the desert. He pursued this runaway servant who had been mistreated. And who had been cruel herself.

There are so many women in the Bible that I would think God should come to first. Yet Hagar is the one who could say God Sees Me.

I feel comforted from this encounter. Though I long for more explanation from God about events in the Bible or events from history, I can know from Hagar's story that he sees. Even the lowly servant running away in the desert. If he sees her, surely he sees me. Surely he sees the other hurting women in this world, both now and then.

Though I wish so often for more of an explanation, I trust that he sees.  He may not speak the way he did to Hagar, but his seeing is not passive--he sees, he knows, he cares.


While tossing in my bed, feeling too sick to sleep, I thought of my prayer. I had prayed for God to give me a heart that was moved for what moved his heart. I prayed to this God Who Sees, and he became to me the God Who Answers Me.

I thought, then, of his grief. In my humanness, if this grief over this one incident kept me from peace, how then would it be for the God Who Sees to know all the griefs of the world? What would it be like as the creator to watch your creation act out such atrocities from the beginning of time until now?

Cain's blood cried out from the ground to him--the very first murder. How much more blood now, these many years later, cries out to God with injustice and pain?

Jesus, the man of sorrows, bore our sins on the cross. Isaiah tells us that he was "pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities." I don't often think of what that really means. Not really. Yet last night, as I tossed in my bed, praying for peace and sleep and for God to reach in and stop the injustices, I was struck by what Jesus really bore on the cross.

I generally don't think of the weight of all our ugliness toward one another, toward God.  I don't think of any horrors or atrocities. I think of my own sins, which are many, but hardly newsworthy: pride, gossip, rebellion, laziness. I thought, then, what it might have been for Jesus to bear the grief, the suffering--to carry the weight of sin.

My understanding is still so small.

I do not and will not understand why he doesn't intervene in the darkness of this world. I can cling to the promises of the Bible that darkness has been defeated by the cross and that one day, we will fully see this. For now, though, we see only in part, as through a mirror dimly. The mirror, dirtied with blood, smeared with hatred and rebellion. That is our looking glass, for now.

These thoughts in the dark of my bedroom brought with them peace at last, for I know God sees. I know God's heart is grieved, more than mine could ever be.


Lord, do not take away this grief at the things that grieve you. 
Yet remind me of the hope in you, the God Who Sees. 



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