Through a seminary course reading assignment, I was first introduced to the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. I was surprised that I'd never read or heard of this passage in the Bible. It is such an important story that should never be skipped over. If you've been introduced to this passage you understand the difficulty and devastation that comes with it. This is an important story for us to walk through and talk about in our churches. A story of sexual assault, silence, and shame.
2 Samuel 13:1 introduces her: "David's son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar, and David's son Amnon was infatuated with her." Amnon grew an obsession with Tamar. He was so obsessed with being with Tamar that he plotted with his cousin to lure her into his bedroom. After Amnon pretended to be sick, Tamar was ordered by his father, King David, to comfort Amnon and prepare a meal before him. When she prepared his meal, Amnon asked that she bring the meal to his bedroom. He then proceeded to overpower, violate, and disgrace her. Amnon's infatuation then turned to hatred, "So Amon hated Tamar with such intensity the hatred that he hated her with was greater than the love he loved her with" (2 Samuel 13:15), and he cast her out of his presence in shame. Tamar, who now felt broken and humiliated, wept and ran away to her brother, Absalom. Now Absalom's words are the twisting of the knife in Tamar's pain after such a traumatic event, "Be quiet for now, my sister. He is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart" (2 Samuel 13:20).
Many women have had similar traumatic and heartbreaking experiences to that of Tamar's. Those who have been victims of rape, assault, and abuse can resonate with Tamar's cry for help, "Where could I ever go with my humiliation?" (2 Samuel 13:13). For Tamar, her brother remained silent and implored her to do the same. King David, when hearing of the news was enraged, but did nothing. No one comforts her or wraps her in their loving arms. Only silence. Can you imagine? The unwarranted guilt? The fear? The pain? She was defiled and yet there was no justice for Tamar, only years of living with the grief and sorrow that followed. It's heart-wrenching to hear the testimonies of others who have been discouraged in their pain and their stories which have been swept under the rug.
Tamar's cry for help, though silenced and put off by her brothers and father, is not ignored by God. Neither does He ignore any other story like hers. His response is the promise of a Savior. A Savior who looked on us with compassionate love and carried our shame and sin to the cross. He died to set us free from the bondage of sin and the sin done to us and to give us a new and living hope that no one can steal away from us. He died for Tamar and all who come to Him, to replace our tattered clothing with robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3) and to uncover our hidden faces so that they shine with radiant joy (Psalm 34:5). Those who look to Christ are set free from the bondage of shame. "Where can I go?" is answered with the open arms of Jesus, "Come to me" (Matthew 11:28).
The repercussions of sin are destructive, and life after trauma and tragedy can be an isolating and difficult road. The memories and scars do not disappear and there are no simple answers to recovery. The good news of the gospel is that there will be justice to come and the disgraceful things of this world will be finally and fully vindicated. God sees and knows all things and He will leave no stone unturned. When we stand before the Lord, everyone will have to give account for themselves, and we know that He will judge perfectly.
Until that day, in our churches, we are called to respond as Christ would respond. We are called to weep with those who weep. We are called to comfort those who grieve. We are called to welcome those who have been victimized with love and compassion. We are called to take claims of sexual assault and abuse very seriously. We are called to show respect, care for one another, and to ensure safety to our brothers and sisters. We are called to create space for honesty and vulnerability. We are called to bear one another's burdens. We are called to raise up men and women of faith who fight against these actions and actively speak against them. We are called to faithfully read and teach God's Word, even the hard passages so that all are equipped in His redemptive work. May the broken and disordered things of this world never deter us from pressing in with grace and truth, shining bright and glorious light on the hope of Jesus.