Scripture: 2 Samuel 13
It was the day everyone had been waiting for. The invitations had been extended, the lampstands were all in place, the flowers were fragrant, and the entire family was gathered. Some would want to make it her day, but it was their day too, as much as it was hers, though she was the center of attention.
All eyes are on her; the birds, the high standing sun, everything and everybody turned her way. And she is beautiful. Her gown is made of the finest fabric, fitted and flowing in all the right places. She is in excellent shape too.
The beadwork of the dress is intricate, the stitching matchless. Her train is endless, perfectly pressed and laid—not a spot, not a wrinkle. Her veil is delicate as baby’s breath—thin enough to let her breath escape, yet heavy enough to conceal what is about to be revealed.
It is her time. All has been made ready for the veil to be lifted. Her hair is in an up-do, her chin tucked down near the nape of her neck. As the veil rises, so does her head lift, slowly, higher and higher. There she is, and her face—her beautiful face—
It is battered and bruised. Yes, the bride of Christ is the victim of domestic violence.
But be quiet for now.
That’s what Absalom told his sister Tamar after she was raped by her half-brother: be quiet for now. After all, speaking out would cause such a stir, a disgrace. The palace newspaper would read, “Royal son violates royal daughter: a scandal in the palace.”
The daughter is shunned and treated as a harlot, for she must have done something, said something to make this her fault. The man, Amnon, well, he just let his emotions get the best of him and made this one small mistake. He’s the oldest of the king’s sons, and there’s no reason to ruin his life over this one mishap. And Absalom? He’s taking care of it; I mean, he’s taking care of Tamar. There’s no need to break the silence.
Especially if the king is silent, there’s no need to speak about it. And silent he, King David, is. Yes, he is angry, but he is silent because this is his son, and David loved him. It’s easy to condemn to death the stranger who attacks at night, but when it’s your son against your daughter, well, it’s easier to be quiet.
Be quiet for now, Absalom says to his sister, whose life is now ruined. She will never marry and never bear children. Never again will she see the light of day. In fact, her face is never seen again nor is her name called again. She is quiet for now, but for Tamar, “later” never comes.
For hundreds of victims around the world, prey to similar crimes, later never comes. Reports to mothers, fathers, police, and pastors are returned with, “Be quiet, for now.”
Poet Maya Angelou was the victim of this kind of domestic violence. When she told, her uncles beat the man to death. She made an agreement with herself to be quiet—for now.
Domestic violence is not rare. Christianity Today reports that 90 percent of domestic violence victims attended church. Do we see it? Do we hear about it? Do we want to hear about it in our testimony services or prayer meetings? Do we want talk about it in our church?
No, we don’t. We just want victims to keep it to themselves or go to the police, who claim neither to love them nor to even care for them. We are the church, the body of Christ, called to justice and to love, but we too beg, “Be quiet for now.”
And so, Tamar fades into the backdrop of history never again to be seen or heard, quiet for now.
But quiet is not really quiet. Have you ever had a parent or spouse, perhaps even a child, give you the silent treatment? Yet they still slam doors, speed off in their car, or throw glass against the wall. Quiet is not really silence.
For Tamar, whose name may not be called again, victims of similar abuse know the shame that speaks, the pain that yells, the interrogating “whys” that beg to be answered. There is no silence.
For Amnon, whose power has only been elevated, he will not be persecuted for his crimes but only protected by silence that gives him license to hurt and abuse again. The lie tells him that he will always be protected and never convicted.
The quiet speaks to David, the king, in anger. I wish we could ask his wives or his subjects if he was silent, or if his anger caused him to abuse or oppress out of that place of anger and helplessness. Most who live with anger but hold some kind of power do. I bet there was no silence.
For Absalom, the silence is filled by the promise of revenge against his brother Amnon, whom he plots to kill.
Everyone is quiet for now, but no one is silent. Except God, it seems.
When Cain slew Abel, God spoke. When Hagar was in the wilderness, God spoke to her. When the people melted jewelry into a golden calf, God spoke. And when David had Uriah killed so he could cover his violation of Bathsheba, the man’s wife, God spoke through the prophet Nathan.
But when Tamar is abused, God does not speak, avenging, or condemn; God is silent. And so it seems for many victims of severe forms of abuse. Hearing nothing, they abandon church; they abandon God because God was silent in their most volatile moment.
I concur with theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.” Could God really be quiet and therefore evil?
Well, yes and no. Yes, quiet; but no, not evil. Quiet, for now.
The quiet is where God has done God’s best work:
… quietly hovering over creation in the beginning.
… quietly stitching Eve while Adam slept.
… quietly ringing out rain clouds into a flood in Noah’s days.
… quietly calling Abram out of the land of his father and mother and into a land he didn’t know.
… quietly snatching the life from Egypt’s firstborn while Moses and the Hebrews headed toward the Red Sea.
… quietly sobbing by the banks of the river in Babylon with Israel.
… quietly creeping back into Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.
… and quietly crawling into the womb of a virgin to dwell with humans and redeem the world.
God works in the quiet sometimes, but only for a while, only for now.
When Willie Jennings, theology professor at Yale, was at Duke Divinity School, I heard his Stoutemire lecture at Western Theological Seminary. He spoke in chapel about this quiet. He said that silence is the space between “you hear it said” and “but I say.” It is that that intertestamental period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. That silence is the place between death and resurrection.
And I agree that these places of quiet are significant places. This is where God operates, but only for a time. For in the quiet, God sees. That’s what he told Hagar when domestic violence led her to flee to the wilderness. She became the first person to give God a name, El-roi, the God who sees, even in the quiet.
In the quiet, God hears the cry of Israel in Egypt, oppressed by their taskmaster. God sends Moses to save them. God quietly sees and hears, but only for a time. Soon enough, God breaks the quiet, reminding us that God’s quiet is not absence, indifference, or apathy.
Soon enough, a name is called, one that hasn’t been heard for generations. And an ancient story evoked one that had never been told. One day, what we can call the day after Tamar’s “now,” somebody in some time and some place told the story—the whole sordid, trifling, disgusting story of Tamar, of her brother’s violation, her shame, and the miscarriage of justice in the king’s household.
God inspires the telling of this story. Tamar’s story is in the canon of Scripture for all future victims to know that their stories matter to God. They are worthy to be told alongside the story of Solomon’s birth and David’s great victory against the Ammonites. They are worthy to be told alongside the story of God’s faithfulness and Christ’s redemption.
God breaks the silence the day after now so that “be quiet for now” is not “be quiet forever,” for the bride of Christ witnesses the violent breaking of the silence on that great morning when death loses its sting and the grave loses its grip.
But she witnessed it through one battered eye and swollen lips. Who will speak for her? Who will tell her story? Who will avenge her dignity and that of all her members who hang as bruised, muted members of her body?
The resurrection signals that the time has come—the day after now—when we who claim Christ’s victory must speak for those abused and challenge ourselves, for God’s glory and for the bride of Christ, to be quiet no more.
Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier
The Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier lives in Holland, Michigan, and is the mobilization pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville and Grand Rapids, Michigan. She serves the Reformed Church in America as RCA Global Mission’s liaison to Setshabelo Family and Child Services in South Africa, where 30,000 orphans are finding loving homes within their community. She has been part of the RCA Women’s Transformation and Leadership guiding coalition since its inception and has helped give birth to Equity-Based Hospitality, Dismantling Racism, and the She is Called: Women of the Bible studies. Her work can be found at www.1cor13project.com.