I don’t want to read the news.
There I find stories of renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where sexual violence is a weapon of war and children’s heads are bashed against walls. I read of a beloved Canadian radio personality accused of terrible crimes against many women. Another gunman opens fire on students, murdering four, injuring one, and killing himself. He was only 14.
I don’t want to know these stories. And yet the Scriptures tell narratives that are difficult to hear, too. Dinah’s story is one of these.
Dinah, the teenage daughter of Jacob and Leah, is sexually assaulted by Shechem, a Hivite prince. Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, are enraged. They plot revenge and negotiate a treaty demanding that every Hivite male be circumcised. The Hivite men agree. Dinah’s brothers kill the incapacitated Hivite men, taking their women and children as plunder.
God is not mentioned in Genesis 34. At first listen, the story sounds godless.
But this is the beautiful thing about Dinah’s story. God, in a sense, is saying: “I will not condone this.” He has commanded nothing, approved nothing. Even Jacob and his sons do not dare invoke the name of Yahweh.
When we witness Dinah’s violation and betrayal, watch revenge unfold in the name of justice, wrestle with the seeming silence of God, and search for answers, we hope for someone who will do better, someone who can save Dinah.
This is true in our own lives, too. We want to know how to hear and speak Christ into dark and desperate places. So how does Christ speak in Genesis 34?
Christ speaks through storytellers who do not tell the whole story.
Dinah’s voice seems eclipsed by her awful circumstances. Does God tell her story? Yes, every time Genesis 34 is read, both by what is written and what is not written. For example:
The Hebrew word for steadfast love, hesed, not used in verse 3, speaks.
Jacob, holding his peace in verse 5, speaks.
Dinah’s mother and sisters, absent in verses 8-17, speak.
The unheard cries of the Hivite children and women, in verse 29, speak.
Dinah’s voice, never recorded, speaks.
Moses, inspired by God not to mention God, speaks.
When we hear stories bankrupt of God's presence, we must also hear Psalm 56:8 speak: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” The tears of this suffering world are not forgotten, Jesus writes them in his book. We listen as he speaks hope to us, and we speak that hope to others as well.
Christ speaks through father and brothers who do not meet our expectations.
Dinah’s father and brothers fail her terribly, and we are left hoping someone better will save her. Our neighbors have also been disappointed by loved ones, and we understand this heartbreak. Psalm 27:10 says, “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.”
Our Father in heaven will not wait to come to us in our suffering. Jesus, our Older Brother, instead of shedding others' blood, allowed his own to be shed, and in him is the hope of the world. The Father and Brother who never disappoint, he is the One we speak to this disappointed world.
Christ speaks through unjust judges.
What happened to Dinah? Did she heal? Did she ever marry? And what about the women and children whose husbands and fathers were killed before their eyes? What did the sons of Jacob do with these women? To whom were these children given and for what purpose?
Injustice is on the pages of every newspaper. Schoolgirls are kidnapped, and the world forgets they have yet to return home. In Canada, where I live, 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail. The most vulnerable are killed before taking their first breath. No matter how I may struggle with what I read in Genesis 34, one thing is clear: we are not more just than the God of Genesis 34.
This lack of justice compels us to look to the God of Dinah’s story, he who will not let the cries of the oppressed go unheard or unanswered. Psalm 10:17-18 says:
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
For those who have struck terror and, like Shechem, refuse to grieve over sin and admit guilt, judgment will be terrible and final. But let those who have sinned and fear God see judgment and mercy meet on the cross. Jesus, abandoned by God, suffered punishment for the sin of his people. Justice was served, and mercy is the sentence given to everyone who believes.
Christ speaks when we compare our ideas of judgment, which are weak and cruel, to the One whose kingdom is righteousness. His judgements we can trust and offer to a world that groans beneath injustice.
Christ speaks through his own suffering.
See the man of sorrows, who was hungry, homeless, marginalized, and falsely accused. Though innocent, he was found guilty. Hear the sound of fist meeting flesh, whips coming down on bared back, the jeering of soldiers. See him die, hands outstretched, spikes tearing muscle and crushing bone. Hear him ask: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, cf. Ps. 22:1)
The suffering of this world is not lost on Immanuel; he knows it. He suffered everything so we might gain all things. This is what we tell the world. It may not answer specific questions, but if we want to truly love those who suffer, it's best we don't pretend to have all the answers.
And while we mourn with and listen to those who suffer, we remember Jesus. We listen for the One who speaks even when he seems silent. We speak the theology of God's goodness, justice, presence, and love, even when it feels like none of that could possibly be true.