“Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.” Judges 15:3-5 NIV
There is, whether we choose to admit it or not, an awful lot of cruelty portrayed in the Bible. Some people ignore it because they think it reflects badly on God, or that it contradicts his loving nature. I’ve heard it said many times that the Bible contradicts itself or doesn’t add up, and this is said as often by Christians (albeit whispered) as by those who’ve never opened a Bible in their lives.
But there it is, in black and white. Those poor foxes! And the violence quickly escalates. In the next verse, Samson’s wife and her father are burned to death, then he wreaks revenge, then the Philistines come at him with three thousand men, and he slays a thousand of them. For me, such episodes are a part of our relationship with God because they are a part of our lives. Cruelty, unfairness, nastiness, vicious horror, are things people do to one another and to animals.
We might accept that most awful things in the Scriptures are perpetrated by humans, but perhaps the reason we balk at it being part of a Bible story, is because God seems to use it. Verse 4 of the previous chapter bears this out: “(His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)” (Judges 14:4 NIV) How can such awfulness be part of his plans? I say that he doesn’t work through such things by choice, but because we choose to make them part of our lives, he redeems them in part by using them for his own, good ends.
Mother Julian of Norwich received a seeing that made her very sure that all the sin and suffering life on earth goes through, will be redeemed by yet another action of Christ’s, akin to or part of what he did on the cross, or something equally wonderful and mysterious, once we come to the end of days (Chapter 36, Revelations of Divine Love). It is a hope I hold onto gladly, since there seems to be so much that we all suffer, so much unnecessary pain, violence and betrayal. It makes sense that we should one day understand it will all be made right. This is one of the reasons behind the constant refrain in God’s relationship with her, “All manner of things shall be well.” In this hope, I believe we can trust, and not just because of her proclamation of it, but because it is the message borne out by all biblical stories, and the Bible itself as a whole.
The story of our relationship with God is messy, it has more X ratings that you could throw a stick at, more gore and intense violence than we can stomach. But such is the nature of humankind, as is quickly borne out by the savagery we still dish out to foxes in the UK today, despite hunting with dogs being ostensibly illegal.
Thankfully, we also reflect the goodness and mercy of our Father God and we also live under his auspices. He can and does turn anything around, so that even wanton cruelty can be harnessed for good. It doesn’t make the action right, and it doesn’t minimise the suffering, but it does give us a hope in a Creator who knows our hearts and still chooses to work with their darkness, which shall be overcome.
“It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” (Thirteenth Revelation, chapter 27, Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich)
Text and artwork ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt
Fox from a reference photo by Rev. Jeannie Kendall, with permission.