We flipped the final pages of Genesis in February as a church, and the book was no light read for women in our community group.
There are several accounts in Genesis in which men abuse women. These accounts hit close to home for women in the age of #metoo, a hashtag women are using on social media to highlight their stories of sexual assault and abuse.
Despite God’s promise to Abraham that his wife will bear a son one day, Abraham sleeps with Hagar, who becomes pregnant with his son (Gen. 16:1-5). Lot almost hands over his daughters to the men of Sodom for sexual pleasure, but God’s angels intervene and blind the men at Lot’s door (Gen. 19:4-11). Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by Schechem, and when Jacob is willing to trade Dinah for property in Canaan, his sons stand up against their own father for this wrong, as if they are the parents (Gen. 34:1-31). There are others, too.
If we are honest (and our small group was honest!), I think we ask either alone or out loud, “Where is Yahweh (the Hebrew word for God) in these stories? Does He condone these abuses against women?”
Women especially want to know in an age of #metoo that God is for us. Sisters in Christ, I especially want to tell you that these questions are important ones, and it is not unfaithful to wade into their deep and murky waters.
For a moment, I want to invite you to set aside with me our twenty-first century lens through which we read and filter the biblical text. Let’s consider all of Scripture in light of these abuses.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a great gulf between our specific time and place in history and theirs. There’s also a great gulf in the ways we retell stories and the ways people of the Ancient Near East retold them. I will not go into more detail about that for the sake of time, but it is good to keep in mind when reading Scripture.
I think we should also be cautious to form beliefs about God’s character based on people’s free actions.
Paul Copan is an excellent writer in addressing questions about the Old Testament. He wrote in his book, Is God a Moral Monster?, “The critic [of these Old Testament accounts] has a point: this isn’t the way things ought to be done… In other words, is does not mean ought; the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior… We can reject the notion that ‘if it’s in the Bible, it must have God’s seal of approval.’”
We know from elsewhere in the Bible that these sins against women ought not be.
Genesis tells us that God created women in His image with equal dignity and worth. God provides an ethic in the Ten Commandments and other Old Testament laws so that women are protected. The prophets condemn Israel’s injustices committed against women. We ultimately see God’s love and elevation of women unfold in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ.
So these accounts in Genesis do not tell us as much about God’s character as they tell us about people when left to our own sinful nature.
They also show us that limits are good.
Think about this for a minute: the people in Genesis do not have access to the rest of the Bible. Israel does not even receive the law until after their exodus from Egypt. We only see glimpses of conviction that things are as they ought not be, such as when Dinah’s brothers seek justice on her behalf or Joseph refuses to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. But we do not know from Genesis just how much guidance God has given them. In fact, we see hints that they are still wrestling with whether they will serve Yahweh or foreign gods (Gen. 35:2).
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
We live in an age that values human freedom and autonomy, but we can see why human freedom should have its limits. When we as people “cast off restraint,” not only do we miss out on God’s prophetic vision for our lives, but we also harm others in the process. We see the consequences of this play out in Genesis, but when people submit to God’s limitations, women flourish along with the rest of creation.
Finally, when we read these #metoo stories of injustice in Genesis, I think it is important that we read them in light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Recall that when Yahweh visits Hagar in the wilderness she calls Him “the God Who sees” (Gen. 16:13). Yahweh is the God who sees, and, because we have the whole story, we know that He is also the God who descends. He descends in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and meets women in their #metoo stories in the most selfless and compassionate way.
Isaiah 53 prophesies about Jesus’ death, and Luke quotes a portion of it in Acts 8:33, which says, “In Christ’s humiliation justice was denied him.”
Whether we are reading Genesis or the latest news, we ask in the face of injustice, “Where is God?”
I do believe part of that answer lies in the question, “Where is His Church?” because God calls us to join Him in His God-glorifying, world-redeeming, light-bringing, people-flourishing work.
But we cannot overlook the cross. We cannot overlook that justice was denied Christ: God incarnate.
He is very acquainted with injustice, and in Him we see what ought to be.