The past few years have shown that sexual violence—particularly against women—is an epidemic of national proportions in the United States. Of course, women and other victims have known this for generations. Now, however, the issue finally is being forced into the light.
The reality is devastating. The light of the #MeToo movement has swept over Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh, Paige Patterson, Andy Savage, Bill Hybels and many more. This light does not discriminate based on wealth, race or status. It has exposed all manner of involvement in horrible sexual wrongs—both suspected and confirmed.
One might notice I ended my list above with influential evangelical figures. Yes, it is true: this epidemic has infiltrated the American church.
King David was a rapist
The presence of sexual violence amidst God’s people is not new. Even King David was a rapist.
I am referring to the infamous story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12. While David’s army is away at war, he spies on a beautiful woman named Bathsheba while she bathes. He lusts after her, sends his men to bring her over, and has sex with her. She gets pregnant. To cover up his sin, David eventually ends up murdering Bathsheba’s husband Uriah and marrying Bathsheba himself.
Many Christians have learned this story as the sordid tale of a sexual affair in which Bathsheba is just as guilty as David. This is not true. When David sees her, Bathsheba is engaged in ritual washing as prescribed in Leviticus 15, doing so at the time of day clearly outlined in the Torah. She is not trying to seduce David or anyone else. She is not “asking for it.” She is obeying God.
When David summons Bathsheba, she has no choice in the matter. The power dynamic at play here gives her no real opportunity to say “no.” That is rape. Furthermore, neither in this story nor anywhere else in the Bible is any blame laid at Bathsheba’s feet. She is innocent. (For more in-depth analysis, see Richard M. Davidson, “Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 17/2 (Autumn 2006): 81–95.)
The consequence of David’s sin
God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David about his crime. David repents and begs forgiveness. God grants it, but the damage is done. David will not die for his sin, but he loses his new son. Moreover, God tells David, “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house… I will raise up evil against you from your own household” (2 Samuel 12:10-11, NASB).
This prophecy comes painfully true just one chapter later. David’s son Amnon violently rapes his half-sister Tamar. When David hears about it, he is angry but does nothing (13:20-21).
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
But Tamar’s brother Absalom does something about it. To avenge his sister, Absalom kills Amnon. This sets in motion a course of events that eventually leads to civil war and Absalom’s death.
Although Israel experiences peace and prosperity under the reign of David’s son Solomon, wounds from Absalom’s conflict never fully heal. After Solomon’s reign, the kingdom of Israel splits in two. Several conquests and exiles later, David’s once glorious kingdom is reduced to shattered fragments.
The judgment of God today
The story of David’s failures and the ensuing devastation should serve as a warning to us. His example shows that even the best among God’s people can commit unspeakable sins. But more importantly, David’s story shows that God does not leave sexual violence against women unpunished.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul warns, “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” In an earlier letter, Paul also warns that our works in this life will be tested by fire on the Day of the Lord. “If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
We are mistaken if we believe being Christian exempts us from judgment and purification on the Day of the Lord.
However, we have also to fear the judgment of God in this life. Consider the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Or consider those who “eat and drink judgment to themselves,” suffering sickness and death for partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). And let us not forget that God is more than willing to kill wicked rulers (Acts 12:23).
God’s wrath is very real, and it is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).
Is there any hope?
Sexual violence against women is a cancer, and it has spread to seemingly every part of the American church’s body. Every day brings new and horrific revelations of egregious sin against our sisters in Christ.
Make no mistake: God will judge us. God is judging us.
How can we stand any chance against the wrath of Almighty God? Our only hope is confession and repentance. David’s life is spared only because he repents of his sin. But even then, he still must live with temporal punishment from God.
When David learns of Amnon raping Tamar, the king has plenty of anger, but he does nothing. This is a grave injustice against Tamar, and it costs David dearly. Because he refuses to act and do what needs to be done, Absalom gets involved and causes even more harm.
If we in the church do not confess and repent of our complicity in sexual violence, we risk the full fury of our God. And if we do not act to discipline perpetrators and seek justice for victims, others will step in and do so—regardless of whatever damage it does to the church.
Joshua Sharp is a Master of Divinity degree student and graduate assistant in the Office of Ministry Connections at Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas.