Four days ago, a 27-year-old man in Singapore was sentenced to 25.5 years in jail and 24 strokes of the cane for prostituting his wife and sexually abusing his young daughter and niece.
Heavy on my mind, I continued to think about this tragic news for the rest of the day. “Evil destroyed four lives,” I thought to myself.
Three victims – mother, daughter and niece – were painfully abused and hurt irreparably. But four lives were devastated: Yes, the abuser’s too.
The series of choices that has led him to where he is today destroyed his life. The pit of depravity offers no comfort to anyone, not even to the perverse perpetrator who thinks he can get away with it forever.
But nobody starts out in life like that, surely. Even our acknowledgment of the concept of depravity suggests to us that something’s off. How did we know we weren’t meant to live like this?
“Sexual assault is one of the most frequent and disturbing symbols of sin in the Bible. It is a complete distortion of relationship, a mockery and devastation of the original intent of being made for relationships with God and others.” (Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, in their book, Rid of My Disgrace)
There’s nothing new under the sun. Read enough of the Bible and you’d quickly realise that it is replete with moral decay and spectacular failures. Theft, idolatry, murder, adultery, rape – these things began in the days of old and they’re still happening today (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
God has never been one to shy away from our pain and failures.
Bad things happened then – thousands of years ago – and bad things are still happening now. There are stories in the Bible that can be troubling at first reading, and even the second. Stories like Amnon’s rape of Tamar.
Amnon and Tamar were half-siblings who shared the same father – a king named David who was a one-time adulterer and murderer.
The king’s son, Amnon, was so taken by his half-sister Tamar that he schemed to get himself alone with her – a feat in those days when unmarried daughters were guarded carefully. He succeeded, raped her and threw her out of his house after he was done.
What followed was intense shame.
“Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly.” (2 Samuel 13:19 NKJV)
It’s a picture of a disgraced woman who is now clothed in shame instead of her embroidered robes that marked her royalty and virginity.
Though baffling to read, this account of sexual assault and family violence – along with many other stories that depict the consequences of moral failure – was recorded for a reason.
Come to think about it, it’s not odd to read about such an account in a Holy Book because the Holy God has never been one to shy away from our pain and failures.
In her final plea with Amnon, Tamar cried: “What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel.” (2 Samuel 13:13)
Tamar’s shame was layered by the fact that a family member violated her. It happened within the family.
And upon knowing, her powerful father did nothing for her. Her blood-brother Absalom suggested that she remain silent and not dishonour the family.
Would the death of her rapist – her half-brother– rid Tamar’s disgrace? Amnon was later killed by Absalom, but we’re never told what significance it had for Tamar.
Many years later, another death would certainly change Tamar. That death answered her haunting question: “What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace?”
Our disgrace is displaced by grace.
To redeem a world so far gone from its original design, God took on flesh and came to us in the form of a man: Jesus Christ.
This is the Gospel: By His death on a cross, He bore the punishment that was meant for us, making it possible for man to once again live the way they were designed to – free from guilt, condemnation, shame.
The place where He died – the Cross – becomes the place where we can leave our disgrace behind.
We’re not leaving it behind in a manner of simple forgetting, or with a careless push to move on with life. We’re leaving it behind because our disgrace is displaced by grace.
“Jesus responds to your pain and past. Your story does not end with the assault. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, despair, pain, and denial. The assault does not define you or have the last word on your identity.
“Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story. The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace.” (Justin and Lindsey Holcomb)
To the two young girls whose lives were forever changed, I don’t know if you’ll ever read these words.
I don’t know when you’ll begin or cease to grapple with the facts surrounding the grief that you bear, but just in case no one reminds you when you just needed to be sure again.
There is hope. In Christ, you are loved, accepted and whole. When you give your life to Him, you can approach Him with confidence knowing that you can trust Him.
“Sin is devastating. Maybe more than we realise most days. But the wretched nature of sexual assault gives us a glimpse of sin’s deep darkness … even if sin goes deeper than you could ever imagine, God’s grace goes deeper still.” (J. J. Sherwood)