The Shadow Of That Hideous Strength

One of the most painful passages in the Bible, for me personally, is recorded in 2 Samuel 13:12-20, which reads as follows: “But she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing should be done in Israel. Do not do this disgraceful thing! And I, where I could I take my shame? And as for you, you would be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, 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, “Arise, be gone!” So she said to him, “No, indeed! This evil of sending me away is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. Then he called his servant who attended him, and said, “Here! Put this woman out, away from me, and bolt the door behind her.” Now she had on a robe of many colors, for the king’s virgin daughters wore such apparel,. And the servant put her out and bolted the door behind her. Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly. And Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you?” But now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this thing to heart.” So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house.”

Last night when I went to a community forum on affordable housing in Vancouver [1], I was accosted as I was standing and relaxing before the meeting began by an elderly lady who wished to complain about the difficulties of her life as a single polio survivor who had divorced her Vietnam War veteran husband who suffered from PTSD—she said this with scorn—who had been abusive to her, and spoke that she was now a community advocate for battered women in the area, and was also fretful about the state of housing, given that she requires wheelchair accessible housing and it can be difficult for her to find. I had compassion on her for her own suffering, which was great, but was deeply bothered by the sort of withering scorn she appeared to have for those who, like her ex-husband, suffered torments as a result of the horrors of war that they had seen. She certainly sought to make a lot of hay out of her own status as a victim who had suffered abuse, but why could she not see that even abusers are tormented souls who are in suffering too, and often the victim of some sort of violence or abuse themselves, which they then externalize on to others? Her casually expressed contempt that suggested that those who suffered from PTSD were somehow beyond the pale of civilized society was a deeply worrisome personal matter, and one that suggested a rather poor level of self-knowledge on her part as well, given her own reliving of the trauma she herself had suffered.

It has been more than seventy years after the end of the Second World War, and the last survivors of that hideous war are elderly people. Many people in our contemporary society have little understanding of the level of concern that our few remaining Holocaust survivors have about a repeat of that suffering. It can be tiresome to hear about the atrocities committed against the Jews and others by Hitler and his willing co-conspirators, or about the hardness of heart against the refugee population of European Jewry that made it difficult for many people to find refuge from the gathering darkness as it approached and that condemned those souls to a horrific fate. People wish to stop their ears to the appeals to never let such evils happen again, thinking that the evil of a Hitler or a Haman is something bound up in the heart of one evil man, and not a restless and hostile spirit that continually seeks to destroy even the remnant of Israel from being remembered. But those who have endured those horrors, or those whose lives have been shaped by the horrors that others have suffered, cannot simply go on as before, as if it never happened. And because it is easy for societies to pick out some sort of outsiders among them as a scapegoat for their own social difficulties, and the shame of defeat in war and the blasted prospects for hope and advancement and restoration, we must be continually vigilant against seeking easy answers for complicated questions, and for assuming that the destruction of one class or segment of our population for their real or imagined sins will wipe away the impurity and decadence from our troubled civilizations.

What do all of these situations, and many more, have in common? They all share in common the corruption and evil that occur when people are in the grips of a lust for power and domination, and who use such power as they possess to abuse and exploit others. It is easy to see that the lust of power and of pleasure has led to a great deal of suffering and brokenness in our world throughout the melancholy course of human history. Every human tie, every bond of loyalty that we have, can be twisted and abused into a relationship of domination and exploitation. The bond of love and obedience that binds families together can easily be corrupted into the horror of the strong taking advantage of the weak to gratify their own selfish lusts. The loyalty of a soldier to his country can easily result in the soldier’s life being deeply scarred by the traumas of war and abuse, breaking down the spirit, and leaving the wounded survivor to live neglected by his country and held in contempt by fellow citizens as a result of the horrors that have been seen in combat. A government that does not restrain itself and that is not restrained by force can easily turn peaceful and defenseless and vulnerable citizens of their own regimes and neighboring ones into victims of atrocity on a colossal scale [2]. In all such cases, and many others, the strength that should have been used to protect and defend was used instead to abuse and to exploit, leaving behind wounded and desolate survivors who are left unable to forget what their eyes have seen and what they have endured, no matter how little anyone else likes hearing about it.

Yet all too often, people seek a certain consideration for their own specific sort of victimhood, without pondering the extent to which victims can easily become abusers, or that those they revile as abusers are often victims in turn of someone else’s abuse, or that the incidents of sordid brutality and inhumanity that we see in history are themselves not mere accidents of history but the result of a long cultivation of certain habits of thought and belief turned into action. No one is immune from either being victimized by the massive evil of our world, nor immune from wounding and scarring others through our own lusts for power and pleasure. But yet we see only ourselves, and the evils that we have suffered, and are blind to the evils that others suffer, unless those evils are brought forcefully and unwillingly to our attention. Sufficient is the trouble of each day, for each day’s trouble connects with the troubles of the past, and looks with fearful anticipation of the evil repercussions of today’s trouble that have yet to come to pass. So long as we only see where we have suffered, and seek to avenge ourselves accordingly, we will create new evils that others will suffer and seek to avenge themselves, and so the violence of retribution and recrimination will go on without end, as we have seen in the conflicts of our broken world in places like Northern Ireland and Israel, and in the troubled hearts of many a broken family.

Where can the strength be found to cease these cycles of violence? Where can the moral courage be found to forgive others for having wronged us, or others, or forgive ourselves for what we have done and to make an honest and open accounting of the damages that have been done, even if we lack the ability to make things right? Such strength and courage cannot be found merely within us, for our strength is small, and we are not courageous by nature, especially not in the sense of admitting wrong when we lack the confidence that our admission will not be held against us forevermore. If we are to have the wisdom not to unintentionally wound even strangers, whose burdens we may not be aware of, or to have the forbearance and longsuffering to hold our tongue, as best as we are able, in the face of continual provocation to lash out, without becoming embittered by the experience, we need help from heaven above. Virtue springs forth out of love, and if we are to treat others with the love that we are commanded to, we must be filled with God’s love first, so that obedience is not a mere mockery and an additional burden, but is something that we have the strength to accomplish through the power and might of the God who lives within us and through us. For it takes genuine strength to oppose that hideous strength of domination and wickedness that so easily overcomes us, a strength that is all the greater for its restraint. For if this world is to be less tormented and wounded than the world we have known and experienced ourselves, we must be restrained from committing the evils that have been committed to us, and only God can give us the strength to restrain the darkness in our own hearts, and the hideous visions of our own minds, whose indulgence can make the lives of others a very hell on earth.


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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