04 December 2013

Dinah, Daughter and Sister

When I committed myself to my 31 Days series this fall (Finding Jesus in Your Desert), I didn't know I would end the month with less angst toward difficult Bible stories.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm still beyond dumbfounded and upset by Sarah suggesting to Abraham that he cheat on her, for example.  It's just that somewhere in those 31 Days, God helped me see where He was in all those stories, and just how far He is willing to go to work in, through, and out of all the stupid things we (as well as other people around us) do to mess up our lives.

I also realized in a new way that most of the Bible stories are difficult.  I think it's because they're realistic.  Yes, there are lovely miracles.  Yes, there are stories of great faith heroes.  But there are also stories that record injustice, devastating sin, and ruin.  The Bible doesn't gloss over the failures of anyone.

Fiction writers have the liberty to make things come out the way they want them to.  

Indeed one of the things you're taught in a narrative writing class (i.e., fiction writing class) is that things need to keep a tight control on the balance between the interesting and believable. 
You can, of course, set up your own alternate reality upon which your story-world operates, but even then you must stay within its framework and not break too many rules.

The Bible writers did not have that liberty, and thus difficult story follows difficult, heart-breaking story as the Bible opens the window to the past and gives us a scathingly accurate picture of who and what brought our world to where we are today.  It's a picture that stands out in the greatest possible contrast with the longsuffering and love God has for us.

I recently began reading the Bible again, right from the beginning.  I never stopped reading the Bible, you know--I just mean that I decided to once again start at the front cover and proceed to the back cover, in order.  When I do that, I have to come face to face with all the stories...even the ones I don't like very much.

The story of Dinah is one of those.  You can find it in Genesis 34.

The only girl-child in a huge family of boys that has just moved, Dinah went out to make friends with some of the other girls in the neighborhood and got raped instead.  

The spoiled brat of a young man who took advantage of her decided to get his powerful father to talk Jacob into a marriage, and somehow or another Dinah's brothers take over negotiations and require all the men in the area to be circumcised before they would agree to a marriage.  The brothers require this because they know they'll have the chance for revenge; the men of the city agree to it because they know if they can get the right to intermarry with Jacob's family they'll have access to his wealth.

Then two of Dinah's brothers wipe out the whole city when all the men are out of commission from their recent surgical operation.

It's here that I wished something had truly been solved.  Jacob rebukes his sons for their rash act that sets the whole family up for danger in the land.  The two guilty sons simply remind him that their sister--his daughter--was just treated like a prostitute. 

And there's no further discussion.

Neither acknowledges the merits of the other's position, or apologizes, or suggests how to move forward as a family from there.  We don't find out what happens to Dinah, or to all the women and children her two brothers took captive on their raid.

All we get is an uncomfortable picture of the ugly reality of a difficult, true story, and the end of a chapter.

So I close the Bible, sad, and open the next day to these words:

"And God said unto Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an alter unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother."  Genesis 35:1

Yes, just leave it to God.  There's no record that they're solving the problems themselves, or that they're even asking God for help.  Yet the gracious God steps in, takes over, draws the whole dysfunctional group back to Himself.

When Jacob calls the next family meeting, there's still no discussion of Dinah's rape or the brothers' military campaign.  After all, coming back to their Lord was the only way to have family resolution anyway, and that had to come first.

He simply demands the removal of false gods from their midst, and they obey.  They physically clean up and put on fresh clothes, gathering their idols and their jewelry, and rather than profit from the sale of their costly yet sinful possessions, they bury them all under a tree and leave.

They go to dwell in the exact place where God first revealed His mercy to Jacob, the place where although Jacob had lied his way into trouble and was fleeing for his life, God showed him the the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and promised to bless him and be with him throughout his life.  

The place where Jacob knew full well he didn't deserve God's mercy, but received it anyway, becomes the place where a whole family can learn afresh the ways of mercy instead of revenge.

Our lives get like that, too.  Slowly but surely we relax our guard, and things can creep into our days and our homes that we know don't honor our God.  Sometimes our circumstances or even our behaviors get beyond the place where we even know where to start fresh.

Like He did for Jacob, for Dinah, for the murdering brothers, God can still step in and take over, and He is still our only hope for reform.

Like them, we might need to clean up, and trash some things we know we shouldn't have in our possession.  Like them, we may need to physically leave a location or situation that isn't good.  Or we may simply need to come away and spend time in prayer to retrace our spiritual steps, re-open the doors to our hearts, and sit down again to supper with the King of our salvation.

The same merciful God who wasn't afraid to step into this difficult Bible story and restore a crazy family to Himself likewise isn't afraid to step into your difficult story to bring you fresh life.

1 comment:

Greetings, fellow climbers! Leave your marks on the steps--I'll be delighted to hear from you.