What’s the saddest story in the Bible?
Different people all have their own opinions, but for me it’s the story of Tamar.
2 Samuel tells her sad tale. She’s Absalom’s sister, and the half-sister of Amnon.
Amnon, under the advice of his cousin, tricked Tamar into cooking food for him at his house. When they were alone, he raped her.
If that weren’t enough, he had his servant toss her out of his house and bolt the door. In that culture, she was finished—no longer a virgin, she would never marry or have a family. Never have a respectable profession. In her shame, still wearing the ornate robe fit for a young virgin princess, Tamar put ashes on her head and wept.
That’s only the beginning of this tragedy. When Absalom discovered what Amnon had done, he told his sister, “Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart” (Sam. 13:20).
David, the king, was “furious,” but did nothing about it, either. These events become the catalyst for a civil war, but we’re never given any indication that Tamar experienced healing.
All we know from the Bible’s account is that Tamar lived out her days in Absalom’s house with nothing more than a pat on the back and, “Shhh! Keep this under wraps and don’t feel bad.” This is the last we hear of her.
We can chalk it up to culture, sure. Women were seen as little more than property in ancient Israel. But not much about the way some victims are treated has changed since David sat on the throne in Israel.
I know from experience that being forced to keep a shameful secret chips away at a victim’s sense of worth and value in God’s eyes.
The abuse itself strips victims of self-worth and often sets them in a path of self-destruction, including promiscuity, eating disorders, self-harm, and misuse of drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed in the news this week, Christians, especially church leaders, need to be far more educated on how to respond to sexual assault/abuse.
First and foremost, sexual abuse and assault are crimes. As difficult as it is, crimes must be reported and prosecuted, if we as a society are to make any progress to end sexual abuse. Secrecy and shame are a pedophile’s best friend. Church leaders have a moral obligation to report any known cases to a police officer (and oftentimes a legal obligation as well). Not a good ‘ol boy system chat—an actual, documented police report that the DA will see. No doubt lots of churches do report it, but too many known cases never come to light.
When counseling victims, three things must be communicated:
- It’s not your fault. In no way should we communicate that it was. Questions about how the victim dressed, what the victim was drinking, or if they’re sure it wasn’t consensual sends a message that the victim is at least partially to blame for the crime. When talking through what happened, help them see that the shame belongs to the perpetrator alone and not to them.
- We’re here to support and love you. Healing and the spiritual care of the victim must come way before the church’s (or the family’s) reputation. Advising them to “just get over it” doesn’t show the victim love. Now, more than ever, they need to know we’re on their side.
- Healing and forgiveness isn’t a linear process. Church leaders and parents who try to hurry this process often disregard the victim’s needs and actually stifle healing. Immediately pointing out that feelings of anger or sadness (both natural responses to such violations) lead to bitterness often puts pressure on the victim to stuff those feelings and say they forgive, because it’s the “Christian” thing to do. We allow true healing to come when the victim has freedom to go through a grieving process, much like for a death.
If even one person recognizes the worth of a victim and helps them see the three things I listed here, how much would his/her life be impacted for good?
Please join the discussion! What other ways can we minister to those who need healing from sexual abuse? What other sorts of things do we as Christians need to know about how to help prevent tragedies like Tamar’s silence?