This chapter made me think about guilt – and cancel culture. We know a little about each of these.
Guilt occurs when we do something wrong, and we know it. Our consciences mess with our minds. We feel terrible because we have sinned. There’s a blot in our lives, a memory of impurity. We feel even more terrible when we sin again. And this guilt is heightened when we go for a long time without committing some of our own personal signature sins – those sins that we have struggled with for years – and then suddenly fall back into them.
We are burdened by guilt.
And then we go to church, or we read our bibles, and we learn again about Jesus’ death on the cross – for our sins and because of our sins. And our guilt grows. We did that. We put Jesus on the cross.
So that’s guilt. Now I also thought about cancel culture.
Cancel culture is when someone does something that is offensive to our cultural norms, whether everyone agrees with our cultural norms or not. The person doesn’t have to intend to do something bad. He or she just finds that what he or she did was offensive to others in some way. The prevailing culture then “cancels” that person. The person is fired from a job or removed from social media. No one is immune from cancel culture, even the president of the United States.
The problem with cancel culture is the way it banishes forgiveness. Forgiveness, in cancel culture, is weakness. In this sense, forgiveness can be offensive. It offends the offended even more when the offender is forgiven by anyone. And so the forgiver, if you aren’t careful, can be canceled, too!
So Genesis 34, which is about rape and murder, reminded me of guilt and cancel culture. The reason is this: When impurity enters our lives, our natural instinct is to eliminate it and atone for it at all costs.
Look at Dinah’s brothers. They lived in a communal culture. Some sociologists call it a “strong-group” culture. Brothers and sisters looked out for one another. They defended one another. If you hurt one member of a family, you were hurting the whole family. Notice how the patriarch Jacob took a backseat in the action in this chapter. This was the whole family acting as one.
It was natural for the brothers to seek revenge for their sister, especially considering what Shechem was trying to do. The threat was the family of Israel blending in with the pagan nations of the Canaan, of it losing its distinctiveness. Shechem was trying to co-opt the future of Israel.
Faced with this impurity, with this blot on the sanctity and honor of the family (not to mention on Dinah), two of the brothers took it out on a whole tribe. Violence against the flesh ensued.
I thought about guilt and cancel culture because this is what we tend to do when we discover with clarity our sin. We punish ourselves. We want to rid ourselves of the blot. We strive with all our flesh to make it right. We conjure up ways to keep from sinning again. We tell ourselves sometimes that we are no good, and that we’ll never be any good to anyone. We might even wonder whether we are worthy of anyone’s love, and if we are worthy of God’s love.
We become guilty, and we want to fix our guilt in anyway we can. Unfortunately, we can’t. We don’t forgive ourselves. We might want to cancel ourselves, to settle in our minds that we are just no good at all.
Despite all our efforts at atonement, there’s only one way to become pure again, and that is through the grace of God. Notice how no one consulted God in this chapter. Simeon and Levi didn’t ask for God’s direction. In fact, it wasn’t until the start of the next chapter that God spoke up.
And he told Jacob to build an altar.
This is interesting. The family was told to go worship. Please realize this: Righteousness comes only by the way of God. And God’s way was to send himself to give us righteousness. This is why Christ came. He died your death so you wouldn’t have to. And he did it for joy (Hebrews 12:2).
And we learn to accept this as we walk with Christ. He said, “It is finished.” It already is done. There’s nothing more to do – for him or for you.
We just trust Christ. We sin. We know this. As Christians, we trust Jesus enough to rest in him.
Our impurities have been covered over already. We walk in new life, and we learn new habits and learn to push away sin with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The consequence for the sin has been canceled so we don’t have to be.