Day 12: May 14, 2018: Frozen in Grief?
2 Samuel 13:15, 19-20: Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”… And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. 20 And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.
Professor Melissa Kelley writes, “All of us may suffer from shrunken or frozen stories after loss; the loss may foreclose our future story as we have imagined it, leaving us, in essence, outside of a story.” Tamar’s story became frozen in grief and brokenness after she was violated by her brother.
Think of all that Amnon took from her: he stole her dignity, honor, and sense of safety. Her reputation forever after was to be “the woman who was violated by her brother.” Further, after the rape, her ability to marry and have children laid in ruins. The Law of Moses gave specific instructions for a scenario in which a man raped a virgin:
Deuteronomy 22:28-29: If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.
The idea of a woman being made to marry the man who raped her seems harsh, even unthinkable, to modern ears. However, in the ancient world this law was actually one of compassion toward the violated woman. By raping her the offender had taken the woman’s virginity and thus her marriageability. Women in the ancient near east did not have a plethora of options to choose from. Their future basically was to marry and have children. Rape took that future away, because the violated woman would have been viewed as “damaged” or “impure” and would have been unwanted by other men. Thus, the law demanded that a man who raped a virgin take economic and relational responsibility for her: he was to pay the bride price to her father, take her into his home, treat her as his wife, and provide for her needs. Under the law his action of violating her in the present made him responsible for her future. He could not divorce her “all his days.”
This social reality explains Tamar’s plea to Amnon after he told her to get out of his room (v. 15): “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me” (v. 16). By sending Tamar away Amnon was refusing to take responsibility for his actions and for her future. He was sending her out as a woman whose virginity had been forcibly taken by her own brother: what man would marry her now? The “greater wrong” of sending her away was the wrong of casting her out into a lifetime of loneliness and shame.
Thus the Bible’s vivid description of Tamar’s grief: she put ashes on her head and tore her robe (traditional acts of mourning), she laid her hand on her head (to cover her face), and she went away “crying aloud” as she went. Not only the physical pain of the assault itself, but also the emotional trauma of a present and future now in ruins, overwhelmed Tamar. Her fate is heartbreaking: she took refuge in her brother Absalom’s house and lived there as a “desolate woman.” The word translated “desolate” here is often used in the OT of cities or other things which have been laid waste by violence and war. The book of Lamentations describes Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians: “The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan; her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly.” (1:4). Tamar was a woman whose defenses had been broken down like those of a besieged city. She lived in desolation, her story frozen by what Amnon had taken from her.
There are different types of loss. There is the loss of a loved one to death. But there is also the loss of a marriage, the loss of a friendship, the loss of a job, the loss of a home, the loss of security, the loss of a role [such as being a care-giver to a family member who is now deceased], the loss of physical ability [due to illness or injury], and the losses of dignity, confidence, and hope. This list could be expanded. The important thing to realize is that all these types of loss can produce grief and suffering. Especially traumatic losses, like Tamar’s, can cause us to feel frozen or stuck in our pain.
Have you ever felt, or do you feel now, that your future as you imagined it has been “foreclosed” by losses you have experienced? If so, understand first-of-all that it is natural to feel this way. Sometimes our stories feel like they come to a halt against a brick wall of pain and desolation.
Know secondly however, that even at the darkest of times, hope remains. In Lamentations Jeremiah wept for the devastation which had come upon Jerusalem and her people. He felt as though the Lord had become the enemy of his people and that he had made them forget all times of joy and happiness (2:5-6). Certainly, in his pain he wondered if Jerusalem and its people could have any future beyond the desolation of the present. Yet Jeremiah did remember the source of his hope. If you are suffering grief through any type of loss, and especially if you are feeling like your story has become frozen, find your hope and strength in Jeremiah’s words, and know that your loss is not the end of your story:
Lamentations 3:21-26: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, you know my pain, my doubts, my confusion, and my fears. You know how much I have lost. You know that sometimes I wonder if my future can be any different from this. I need your help, Lord. I need your comfort. Only you can heal what is broken. Only you can bring light into my darkness. My hope is in you. I thank you that your mercies are new every morning. I wait quietly for your salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”