This is pretty much the worst story I’ve read in a while. A 15-year old girl was gang raped outside her school on the night of homecoming. She was abused for 2.5 hours by multiple people while as many as 10 people stood by watching and yet did nothing. She was found unconscious under a bench early the next morning. So far six kids have been arrested in connection with the rape, and police suspect more will follow.
At the arraignment, the perpetrators showed up wearing bullet proof vests. I imagine they feared for their lives. I get that. They should be afraid. I imagine there are few souls on the planet whose stomach is not twisted into knots over the horror of this crime. And there are plenty of people crazy enough to bring a gun to the courthouse and attempt to shoot these kids down before their trial can ever begin.
This sort of story is similar to stories we find in the Old Testament. It sounds eerily similar to the scene in Sodom and Gomorrah when the angels arrived to stay with Lot. It is also similar to what happened in Judges near the end of the book. These biblical narratives are the kinds of stories that cause us to realize the depravity of a culture, and for a moment we understand God’s wrath. In fact we call out for God’s eradicating power to rain down on people like this. A culture that not only perpetrates but perpetuates and praises this sort of behavior is atrocious. Shouldn’t we do all we can to execute these rapists? Is there any other action other than fiery judgment?
Paul says there is:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:9)
Christians are called to forgo revenge and instead make room for the wrath of God. Christians can pass up on the urge to exact revenge on these boys because we know there is a future judgment coming. We also recognize our compromised position. We are a people who crucified Jesus. He was full of love and committed to non-violence and peace, and yet we killed him. Our sense of right and wrong has been compromised by our own self interest. Judging with justice is an elusive goal. Our hope is that in the future God will judge all sin with justice. For now, we have to wait. We don’t hide out in the crowds with guns and attempt to take justice into our own hands.
The desire to do so is an unusual feeling. Most American Evangelicals never have to wrestle with an inner feeling that desires to call out for justice, because we are rarely victims of abuse. We rarely have to struggle with the call to forgive our enemies, because we are never oppressed. We American Christians are a powerful and dominant group. Many of us are among the richest 1% of the world’s population. We are not subjected to injustice. Apart from a rude customer service agent at the airport, we never think there is someone who is “out to get us.” And so we find the promise of a future judgment and the reality of Hell distasteful. We minimize the Bible’s language on Hell, because we just don’t see a need for it. But the Ancient Israelites regularly called out for judgment of their enemies, and Jesus talked about it all the time. It was a hope that the oppressed clung to. Someday, they thought, God will avenge me.
This story about gang rape is a good reminder of the feelings that well up inside of us when a victim we can relate to is brought to our attention. This is not a story about the ethnic-other in some far away country that we can easily dismiss. This is a story about a girl in high school in America who went to homecoming. I have a little girl. She will go to high school. She will probably go to homecoming. Could this happen to her? Now that we can relate we think, “This is outrageous! Something most be done about this heinous crime!” We cry out for punishment, judgement, and justice.
But we would be wise to take pause and consider those around the globe who have been crying out for justice to be executed everyday. This story of gang rape is a reminder of suffering in our midst and around the world. It’s also a reminder that for some people the promise of judgment and Hell is the hope of a future vindication.