What Does It Mean When God Doesn’t Intervene?

An age-old Bible story of abuse re-emerges in today’s context with full force and frankness. Will you follow up?

 

 

“’Here, let me bring out my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine now. Abuse them and do whatever you want to them. But don’t commit this outrageous thing against this man.’…the man seized his concubine and took her outside to them. They raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go…When he entered his house, he picked up a knife, took hold of his concubine, cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and then sent her throughout the territory of Israel…Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” Judges 19:24-25, 29, 30b

Grappling with God

Have you ever felt like God had an opportunity to show up for you and He didn’t? Have you ever felt like He had the opportunity to intervene and stop something bad from happening to you, but He didn’t? Well you aren’t alone. In Judges 19 we’re introduced to a woman from Bethlehem whose story causes us to ask that really hard question: what does it mean when God doesn’t intervene?

Many of us remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but for those who are unfamiliar, Sodom and Gomorrah was a city that was known for its affinity for immorality. Homosexuality, drunkenness, and perversion was rampant throughout the city. The city had sunk so deep into degradation that God alerted Abraham that He was going to destroy it:

“And the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21).

Risky Reconnaissance

So God sent angels disguised as men to check out the city and see if its destruction really was necessary. Lot, a resident of the city and Abraham’s nephew, encouraged the men not to stay in the square. He insisted that they stay with him instead.

It wasn’t too long after that men from the city got word there were visitors staying with Lot. Soon they surrounded the house demanding that Lot release the men so that they could have sex with them (Genesis 19:5). Lot pleaded with the men not to disgrace his guests. He even offered his two virgin daughters to the angry and aroused mob.

But they declined the girls and pressured Lot for the men. They pressed so strongly the Bible says, they “came near to break down the door” (Genesis 19:9). At that moment, the men who were really angels pulled Lot back into the house, shut the door, and struck the men outside with blindness so that they became tired trying to find the door (Genesis 19:10-11). That night the power of God stepped in and prevented the depravity of humanity from abusing and killing the men and Lot’s daughters.

Script Flipped

In Judges 19 the story is the same, but the outcome is very different. A Levite was traveling with his concubine and servant and decided to rest in the city called Gibeah. It was an Israelite territory belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. They chose to stay in Gibeah because they believed they’d be safer among their own rather than in a foreign city with unbelievers (Judges 19:12).

When they entered the city an elderly man welcomed them to stay with him. As they were enjoying their visit with the old man, the men of Gibeah surrounded the house demanding the old man give them the Levite so that they could have sex with him (Judges 19:22).

In one of the Bible’s most graphic accounts of abuse and rape, the unstated charge is unmistakably clear.

The old man pleaded with the men, “I beg you, do not act so wickedly!…do not commit this outrage” (Judges 19:23). To assuage the crowd the old man even offered the mob his own virgin daughter along with the concubine.

When the Levite saw the old man wasn’t really persuading the crowd he seized his concubine and threw her out of the house for the mob. Judges 19:25 relates the grievous details: “they raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go.”

When the Levite found his concubine on the ground in front of the door, unresponsive, he picked her up, put her on his donkey, and carried her home. There he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent each piece to the twelve tribes of Israel.

God, And God’s People

In my opinion this is one of the hardest stories in the Bible. The sexual abuse is extremely hard to stomach. Her dismemberment is immensely difficult to fathom. But for me, it’s God’s inactivity that is most difficult to understand. Why is it that God intervenes and protects Lot’s daughters from evil men in the world, but He doesn’t intervene to protect this concubine from evil men in the church?
Hanging on a cross I believe Jesus was faced with the same question. With a crown of thorns pressing into his skull, I see Christ hanging from splintered wood, struggling to breath, writhing in pain as His lacerated flesh pressed against the wood; His hands and feet pounding from the nails; His body chilled as it hung naked and exposed. I see my Jesus hanging there on a cross looking up to His Father wondering if He was going to intervene.

Broken bodies that save lives. Is there another outcome? One that does not end in more suffering?

It’s such a hard truth to receive, but I believe the reason God didn’t intervene on behalf of the concubine, on behalf of Jesus, and sometimes on behalf of us is because God understands this extremely hard truth: broken bodies save nations.

Just like the broken body of Jesus Christ saves us from sin and grants us the gift of eternal life, I believe women and men whose bodies have been broken by sexual and physical violence can save our communities from the psychological, physical, and spiritual death that abuse brings. I believe our communities can experience emotional, physical, and spiritual life from the stories of women and men whose bodies have been broken from sexual and physical violence.

The Bible says the crime at Gibeah started a war against the Benjamites because instead of burying the concubine’s body the Levite displayed and distributed it. Survivors have the same power! They too can start wars against sexual and physical violence when they refuse to let their stories be buried, and instead allow their stories to be distributed.

Righteous Rage

The story of this unnamed concubine ends by saying, “Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” I believe it’s time we think on the stories of survivors of sexual and physical abuse and allow their stories to ignite a righteous rage within us that activates us to war against such violence.

Brittany Cooper in her book Eloquent Rage says, “we should not have to rely on supernatural acts of God to keep women safe.” The story of the concubine along with Cooper’s statement provides a plausible answer to the question: what does it mean when God doesn’t intervene?

What if God doesn’t intervene in some cases of sexual and physical violence because God is waiting for the broken bodies of the abused to send us to war? What if God is looking upon the Earth waiting for humanity to enact justice? What if God doesn’t intervene in things that He believes humanity has the power and responsibility to handle on their own? What if while we’re waiting on God to intervene, God is waiting on us to intervene? What if God is waiting on us to be the justice we’re constantly waiting for Him to provide?

 




The Grace Greenleaf Effect

How TVs new drama lucked-up on the truth behind disruptive gospel

“Satan we’re gonna’ tear your kingdom down/You’ve been building your kingdom/ All over this land/Satan we’re gonna’ tear your kingdom down.”

Television’s new original series Greenleaf on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) marks the first scripted show depicting what some are calling “Megachurch Drama.” Greenleaf humanizes church leadership by providing a behind-the-scenes look into the struggles, desires, and flaws of bishops and pastors, assistants, choir directors, and even first ladies. Greenleaf centers on estranged daughter Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf’s return and her disruption of her family’s and church’s carefully managed image of perfection.

      As Response Pastor, Grace can’t help but break her promise to her mother not to sow discord. Instead, she works tirelessly to expose her uncle Mac as the pedophile and rapist he is, completely disturbing the family’s peace and business as usual, not to mention that of the church. And, it is in this disturbance that we find a discordant gospel, one that repels and one that heals all at the same time. The Grace Greenleaf Effect.

Stay to Play

Grace Greenleaf doesn’t leave to start her own church, center, or organization to help victims of sexual violence. No, Grace stays at Calvary Fellowship World Ministries to work for both the healing of the oppressed and transformation of the oppressor. It is in staying and forcing Calvary to acknowledge that it has both protected and perpetuated violence against its own church members, yea even family members, that Grace gets vindication for the victims. But her presence also creates an environment where her family and Calvary can practice repentance.

In staying and accepting the job as the Response Pastor, Grace positions herself to have enough influence to change church culture at Calvary. It’s not enough to call out injustice and create new communities that protect those who have been wronged.

The work of justice requires that we challenge the cultures and systems that inflict violence, but that we also help reshape the culture of existing communities that protect and support violence so that silence and complacency are a thing of the past. The Grace Greenleaf Effect then is a contemporary prophetic oration of Isaiah 59:4 where God tells the prophet Isaiah that “no one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth” and he considers such to be the reason why “we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us” (Isaiah 59:9).

Grace stays at Calvary to help her family and church repent for the sin of silence. Her staying promotes a change in Calvary’s culture so that they cease to be a community that protects and perpetuates violence, but they become a community that works for healing and vindication.

Grace preaches precisely on the importance of talking about things we typically “hate talking about in church.” Calling the congregation into a moment of silence Grace says, “let’s take our moment of silence this morning and when we’re done let us promise ourselves and all the abused around us, all those victims, that we will never be silent again. The silence ends today!”

By encouraging her family and congregation to be vocal about abuse and refrain from protecting false images of perfection, Grace socially and spiritually works to tear down Satan’s kingdom of false appearances, violence, and complacency in the oppression of others.

The Grace Greenleaf Effect then is to have a love for people that causes you to dismantle any structure or system that supports or protects violence against them. Grace Greenleaf disrupts the illusion of peace within her own family so that the victims of sexual and domestic violence that attend the church might have vindication.

During a time when many doubt the intentions of various Christian churches, questioning if they truly care about the social and physical ills that attack their bodies on a daily basis, it seems as though many churches need a Response Pastor like Grace Greenleaf. It seems as though churches need someone who believes that part of the necessary response to social and physical violence is to disturb the church’s silence surrounding such issues, and disrupt their performance of peace and perfection.

Critical Roles Played By the Flawed

But while Greenleaf articulates the importance of disturbing the church’s silence and complacency, it also reveals that the truth of the Gospel is not contingent upon self-proclaimed Christians. While we may be introduced to Christ through our interactions with other Christians, the Bible tells us that it is the job of these flawed beings to bring us to the only perfect Being – Jesus Christ.

David admonishes us in Psalm 118:8 that “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man,” and Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 2:5 “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” So when you see leaders mimic Grace’s lack of self-control, or Pastor Jacob Greenleaf’s infidelity, or Mae Greenleaf’s anger and inability to forgive, yea, Mac’s sexual abuse and his lack of remorse, do not doubt in the validity of the Gospel. Instead, understand the very individuals called to deliver the Gospel are broken.

Just remember that the brokenness of humanity does not provide us a pass to be silent when they break others. Be vocal! Hold everyone accountable for the pain they’ve caused and challenge them to receive the power of Jesus Christ that they may be empowered to not hurt you or anyone else in that way again.

It is the job of the Christian to disrupt any culture, structure, or system that protects or perpetuates violence by ignoring the pain of people to maintain a false image of peace and perfection. Just as Pastor Grace Greenleaf embodies, we must work with our leadership to call out sin so that those who have been hurt can receive help and healing, but also so that those who have committed the sin of silence, yea inflicted the abuse, have the opportunity to repent and turn away.

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Claudia M. Allen is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English at the University of Maryland specializing in 19th and 20th century African American literature. She earned her MA in English from Georgetown University and her BA in English with a minor in Leadership from Andrews University. Claudia is passionate about the language of race, theology, and social engagement and how these ideologies and philosophies intersect.