The Untold Stories of Faith

The Untold Stories of Faith

Growing up in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition of faith in a St. Thomas Christian community in the Southern part of India gave me the privilege of knowing so many unwritten stories of faith. Stories are the substance and style of faith. There were many story forms exist such as myth, parables, folk, tale, epic, romance, novella, history, confession, and biography. All of them contain stories in some form or the other. Stories we live not and stories live not without us. Many of the biblical stories are very interesting and very much centered around the implementing and imposing the cultural norms and later many of them become the doctrinal standard. There are many sad stories that are mainly the stories of women, victims, and terror. 1 We can't always choose our stories in the complete forms or every character but we can be venerable, risky and be human in our own story, that is where the best part of the story lies. I would like to present few of the biblical stories in its untold forms. 

Haggar: The desolation of rejection 

The slave used, abused and rejected as the first women or female in the scripture to experience use, abuse, and rejection. The Haggar's story is a plot from bondage to flight to bondage, bondage to expulsion to homelessness. The scripture on Gen: 16:1 starts with a binary opposite starting with Sarai the wife and ending with Hagar the Egyptian. The Egyptian is poor, single, bonded and she is young and fertile. The power belongs to Sarai, the subject of the action; powerlessness marks Hagar the object. The story is all about the narrator's interest, but then the character plays a major role in admitting the plight to Yahweh and thus seek to encounter divine action with the human initiative. Here Hagar is only an instrument, not a person, in the global economic world a commodity. The maid enhances the mistress. The strife between barren and fertile wives is the typical motif in the scripture which is very evident. The exalted mistress decreases while the lowly maid increases. Here the patriarch chooses not to exercise power and thus remain passive.  Abram said; since your maid is in your hand, do to her the good in your eyes. (Gen: 16:6a). Here the question is what is good for the one suffering from the other, is it a permissible norm? And Sarai afflicted her (b) the verb is a strong and means harsh treatment. Then she takes her own plight identifying the suffering servant (Sarai afflicted her, and so she fled from her), and the messenger of the Lord found her in the wilderness. It is in the same context the term shur later the sons and daughters of Abraham will be fleeing from Egypt and found no water for three days. Here the wilderness represents escape from oppression, nourishment of life and revelation of the divine. This story reflects the oppression in the forms of nationality, class, and sex. "Hagar foreshadows Isreal's pilgrimage of faith through contrast. As a maid in bondage, she flees from suffering. Yet she experiences exodus without liberation, a revelation without salvation, wilderness without covenant, wanderings without land, promises without fulfillment, and unmerited exile without return. This Egyptian woman is stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted for the transgressions of Isreal. She is bruised for the iniquities of Sarah and Abraham; upon he is the chastisement that makes them whole."2

Tamar: The royal rape of wisdom 

This is a story where the brother mistreats his sister in 2 Samuel: 13: 1-22. The plot moves from obstacles and plans to the crime and its aftermath. The crime had a preparation (1-9c). This story is in continuation behind the lie the sordid deeds of David to secure Bathsheba (Chapter 12). As a virgin, Tamar is protected property, inaccessible to anyone including her brother. Here the virginity does not stand between the object and his desire. Her appeal "Do not do this foolish thing," is not connected with divine law or intervention but custom and social norms. This shows the plight of the female, without name, power, and freedom. He was not interested in hearing her voice. Here the story ends with the sole intention not to love her but lust. (15ab). The lust fulfilled its desire and the victim suffers. She said to him sending me away is a greater evil, than the other, which you have done to me. He condemns her to a lifelong sentence of desolation. He did not listen to her before the crime and after the crime, he was not willing to listen to her. She is not more of any value but she is a trash. He bolted the door after her. The writer looks at her again and identifies her cloth which does not represent her status. As a victim of shame, she no longer can identify or hide with her clothes. She could have received justice from Absalom but he is silencing her. Be quiet... do not take to heart. David was very angry, but his anger signifies complete sympathy for Amnon his son and total disregard for Tamar the victim. The adulterer supports therapist. Male joined the male to deny justice for the female. Here Absalom does not speak with Amnon, who has refused to hear the words of Tamar. The beautiful virgin encircled has become the raped sister isolated. The story continues in 13:23-39. Absalom waits two years, he persuaded his father to let Amnon visit at Baal Hazor, and ordered him killed while he was merry with wine. Absalom returns to Jerusalem only after three years. David mourns not sure for the object of his grief is Amnon or Absalom the fugitive. Later in the scripture, Absalom has given the description "the beauty," of course at one point Tamar was given the same description. In Proverbs, it says "She to wisdom, "My sister is you," and call insight an intimate friend to preserve you from the loose woman, from the adventurer with her smooth words (7:5-4). The question remains if sister wisdom can protect a young man from the loose woman, who will protect sister wisdom from the loose man? 
In reality, rape is not sexually motivated, it is neither sex nor love. Rape is violence. It is about power and control, the use of the body in a violent way. The first phase of trauma syndrome is the immediate emotional reaction to rape. The second one is the long-term process of reorganization. The long-term physical, psychological, social, and sexual stress need to be addressed. Dealing with victims from a pastoral framework is very crucial. This involves the ability to process information in a non-judgmental and dehumanizing violence, providing practical assistance and the ability to reflect theologically.  The victims normally have many questions in mind such as Why me?, Was it my fault? Was God testing me? Was God punishing me? Was God strengthening me? Why did God let this happen to me? does God still love me? Can God forgive me for this? (self-blame), Why there is suffering? Where was God at that time? etc. Many of them will remain unanswered from a victims perspective even while God seems standing with the oppressor. 

Unnamed women: The extravagance of violence

This is a story of an unnamed woman who was a concubine of Jephthah (Gen: 22 11-12) a virgin slain and sacrificed. Her body was broken and given to many. The betrayal, torture, rape, murder, and dismemberment of an unnamed woman. The explicitly depicts the horrors of male power, brutality and triumphalism; female helplessness, abuse, and annihilation. The episode starts with there was no king in Isreal. God seldom appears and chaos reigned among the Israelite tribes. The Levite, his attendant, a father, an old man, and a group of men. All of them are nameless including the females a concubine and virgin daughter.  The Levite has honored the place in society that sets him above many other males, a concubine has an inferior status that places her beneath other females. The power struggle is visible when the two men highlight the plight of the woman who brought them together but whom they and the storyteller have ignored. The males are being protected by the wicked brothers. Even the conflict is resolved by sacrificing the females. They raped her and tortured her all night until the morning. The crime was not a single deed but rather multiple acts of violence. The live concubine who once left her master has become the dead object of his appalling violence. Her movement away from him not actually his call for revenge. The verb shows his activities; took, seized, cut and sent. He took not a knife but the knife. Borrowing a word combination from the story of Abraham and his son. She is not treated as a person with humanity rather she is a property, object, tool and literary device. Without a name, speech, power and has no friends to her aid or mourn her in death. Lesser power has no woman than this, that her life is laid down by a man. Now Isreal is expected to direct her heart towards her and take counsel and speak. The response is left up to us even in this postmodern era where the discrimination and violence left undone without a response. 
Many times we equate love with self-sacrifice and self-denial. This is a dangerous ground for the victims when we look at from a psychological, spiritual and physical well-being. When the victims who develop self-sacrifice commonly lose touch with their own needs and desire, they will have a loss of sense of worth and loss of voice, they will often be a reservoir of resentment, bitterness, anger and other negative emotions and feel victimized. They will over function on behalf of others, under function on behalf of self, which ultimately destroys one's own self-direction and self-worth.  This is a critical examination of culture and faith in the context of misogyny. Feminism is a prophetic movement, examining the status quo, pronouncing judgment, and calling for repentance. Love is not self-giving only from the perspective of the victims. In the context of the story of Good Samaritan gives an important metaphor. He did not cancel his trip. Jesus instituted discipleship of equals. No longer do I call you servants, but friends, All that the Father has shared with me I have shared with you. Joh: 15:15). The paradigm is not sacrificing but the maturity of friendship. Ultimately it is clearly defined in the Trinity. The Christian love is not self-sacrifice and self-denial. Self-giving is not about denial of self, but rather an offering up of one's very fullness. In love, there is no dominion or subordination, no equalling of individuality or uniqueness. It also shows us the need of another person by showing the wholeness in a relational concept, not something that one achieves on one's own. The traditional understanding is radical separation and lack of any self-concern. This brought masochism and dominion within Christian theology. The incarnation story tells us about the nearness of God, the intimate communion and thus the abundance is reached. Now it calls us for a new definition of our theology in its fullness and greatness. 

1. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror, Literary-Feminist Readings of Bible Narratives, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984.
2. According to Walter Brueggemann cited by Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror, Literary-Feminist Readings of Bible Narratives, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984.

Dr. Binu Peniel

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