Why does God allow this?

Ugandan man in brightly coloured shirt praying

Do you ever find parts of the Bible distasteful, crass, gory, disgusting? I certainly do. One of those parts of the Bible which I always baulk at is Judges 19:22-28 in which a young woman is gang-raped and abused all night so severely that she dies. A number of issues cause my squeamishness over this text, the sheer brutality of the attack is certainly one of them. Yet God decreed that this incident be recorded in His holy book.

Maybe a partial reason why such an horrific rape was retained in scripture is to give us a reference point for comparable incidents occurring in our world today, such as the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burma Army in Shan State. A recent report by Burma Campaign UK entitled Crisis in Shan State contains reports of exactly these sorts of horrific incidents:

  • On 21st March in Nam Lao village, Nang M, a 30 year-old woman, was gang raped by a large number of soldiers. She died immediately after being gang-raped.

  • On 23rd March Burmese Army troops from Light Infantry Battalion 291 and Infantry Battalion 33 gang-raped Nang B on a road outside her village. She is 19 years old.

Appallingly similar to the blunt reporting in the Bible:

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. (Judges 19:25-26 ESV)

Men are no safer in Shan State, Burma Army soldiers regularly force villagers to carry supplies, repair roads, build military camps and cultivate crops for them, with no pay and no food supplied. By forcing the men into labour for the army, women are forced to maintain farms, crops and households while the man are away, never certain that their fathers and husbands will return. Even living peaceably in their own villages men are not safe — the slightest provocation of the Burma Army can be fatal:

On 20 December 2010, a patrol of about 15 Burma Army troops from IB64 and 15 Shan ceasefire soldiers came to Maak Laang village and required So-Nan-Di, aged 48, to provide them with food and liquor. So-Nan-Di then killed his own chickens, bought some whiskey and served the soldiers. After eating and drinking to their satisfaction, the soldiers returned to their base in Lai-Kha. However, at one point on their way back, about 3 miles from Maak Laang village, they were ambushed by a group of Shan resistance soldiers. The Burma Army troops returned three days later, arresting So-Nan-Di and Zaai Maad from their houses, taking them back to their base in Lai-Kha township. Even though there was no evidence, they accused the men of helping the Shan resistance soldiers. So-Nan-Di was shot dead somewhere along the way that same day and Zaai Maad was imprisoned at Lai-Kha.  (report from Shan Human Rights Foundation)

There are hundreds of stories like these, a young father is severely beaten because he ran in fear from Burma Army soldiers — their excuse; they thought he must be a spy from the rebel militia. A 15-year-old girl returns to her parent’s house after bathing and is raped by a Burma Army officer who was looting the house. A small boy is burnt to death when the army sets fire to a village. Callous, inhumane slaughter and tyranny occurs every day in Burma.

Callous, inhumane slaughter also occurred in the Bible,

And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. When Achish asked, Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, lest they should tell about us and say, So David has done.’”(1 Samuel 27:9-11 ESV)

I find it hard to reconcile this bloodthirsty David with the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). It seems that while we may like to present ourselves as together’ and upstanding to the world, God refuses to omit the nasty incidents from the story of His redemption. While it remains distasteful and hard to swallow, at least these sordid biblical reports remind us that God knew full well the depths of depravity and sin that needed to be atoned for in Christ — and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was fully sufficient.

It is OK to ask, why does God allow this?”

Just make sure you are ready for His truthful answer — an answer that will be big enough to embrace wiping out entire nations at His command, permitting a sickening myriad of atrocious human acts, even to the slaughter of the only innocent One to ever live on earth. It is the very nature of God to not shy away from the truth, it is the very nature of my own flesh to hide from the light. Bring these together and it would seem most likely the problem with the texts I have quoted in this post is my inability to face truth rather than God being less than good.

What can we do?
  • I am praying for humility to accept God’s goodness, my fear of the light and His grace in Christ.

  • Pray for God to intervene and change the situation in Burma. It is not for us to stipulate how, but we are called to plead the case of the oppressed and powerless.

  • Ask God to send the light of Christ into this region of sadness. The Shan people have almost no Christian witness in their midst, the few Christians there live in fear so their light is blinkered. Would you be any bolder? May God give them His strength in their weakness.

Image of man praying by Susan Wardell, used with permission.

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