Ugly Stories in the Bible

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

If you’ve read the Bible cover to cover, you have come across stories you will not forget. Disturbing stories that are painful to read. Ugly stories that scar your memory. Just the mention of their names will trigger the unpleasant memories.

The Levite and his concubine (Judg. 19). Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19). Dinah and the Shechemites (Gen. 34). Judah and Tamar (Judg. 38). Amnon and Tamar (2 Sam. 13). Abimelek (Judg. 9). Jephthah (Judg. 11).

Sermons are not preached on these passages and you definitely did not hear these stories in Sunday school.

If you’ve ventured into these dark corners of the Bible, these names bring back those emotions. Anger at atrocity. Disgust at lusts. Frustration with their foolishness.

Why would God put these awful stories in the Bible? What in the world are they supposed to be teaching us?

The ugly stories show us what we become when we reject God. We like to think we are better than the ugly stories. We’re civilized and educated. We love our family and friends, and we’re kind to strangers. However, the same Bible that includes these ugly stories also tells us that there is no one who is truly righteous and good, not even one (Rom. 3:9-18).

Multiple studies show a human tendency to overestimate our moral conduct.

We might not engage in mass slaughter, but many of us harbor bitterness in our hearts, which is the root of murder. We might not commit rape, but the problem of pornography is rampant, even in the church. Our sin might not be a raging fire, but the pilot light is lit. It burns, waiting for the right conditions to flare up.

When we reject God and follow our own purposes, ugliness results. These ugly stories hold up a mirror to show us how sin looks.

Recently I was listening to a sermon on the testing of Abraham. The preacher admitted a realization in studying for the passage. He said he felt anger at the prospect of Abraham sacrificing his son, but he did not feel anger at the thought of the sacrifice of the Son of God.

The ugly stories each have details that point to the ugliest story of all. The perfect Son of God left eternal glory to join us on this cursed ground, to heal sicknesses, give sight, raise the dead, and teach us the truth. Our response: We killed him in the worst possible way. Never was such goodness met with such evil. Never was the honorable more dishonored. Never was such innocence violated. Jesus Christ suffering at the hands of sinners, crucified, dead, and buried is the ugliest story of all. Because he died for our sins, the ugliest story is a true mirror in front of us. Other ugly stories show us what our sin can do, but the cross is a direct reflection of our sin. Our sin might not have committed mass murder or rape, but it did crucify God’s one and only Son.

By the almighty power of God, the ugliest story of all has an ending that is the most beautiful. On the third day, the Son of God rose again from the dead. The ugly enemies of God can now be children of God. Heinous sin becomes white as snow. The most disturbing event in history is now the good news of Jesus Christ for all people.

Let’s not skip over the Bible’s ugly stories. Allow them to call out the true ugliness of sin and to point to the beauty that God has brought forth from the ugliest story of all.

About the Author

Rev. Aaron Vriesman is pastor of North Blendon Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Mich.

See comments (6)


Wonderful offering, Rev. Vriesman!  Thanks.

Thank You, Aaron!!!  Your insight into the Bible's ugliness is right on.  It's humbling to know that the root of these horrific sins, recorded in the Bible, lives in my heart too.  And even worse, my actual sins contibuted to the greatest evil of all human history, the death of God's righteous Son.  May your insights remind all who read your article that we are no better than the worst of sinners and that God's grace is our only hope!  Thank you gain!!!  

Thank you, Aaron, for your take on the ugly stories of the Bible.  I noticed that your article has a disclaimer at the beginning from the Banner staff, indicating that this may or may not be the Banner’s point of view.  I think this means the point of view that you suggest may be a matter of conjecture or opinion.  We all do that.  Such a statement by the Banner indicates that the Bible is open to interpretation.  We rationalize the stories of the Bible so they somehow (in our minds) accord with a divine purpose for being in the Bible.  I think many Christians would like your interpretation of the ugly stories.  But, of course, there are many other interpretations that have circulated, as well.

As to the ugly stories of the Bible, the worst story is, no doubt, the fall of Adam and the whole of humanity along with him.  Adam’s sin and fallen nature have been credited to all of humanity by God and results in all the ugly stories of the Bible and of history. 

What stands out in the ugly stories you listed and others in the Bible, is that this was the chosen people of God who committed these heinous sins.  According to the Bible God chose the Jews out from among the nations and graciously rescued and redeemed them.  And how do the people of God demonstrate their gratitude?  They are no better than the heathen nations that surround them, so much to the point that God threatens them over and over, and finally abandons them to a new and better plan. 

But, once again under God’s new and better plan, God’s chosen people are no better.  They (the Jews) reject God’s chosen redeemer and had him crucified.  As to the Gentile followers, they prove to be no better, and history has shown ugly story after ugly story carried out by those claiming to be God’s people.  In a word, the Christian church has proven no better than anyone else.  Sure there are bright lights that shine out from the church from time to time.  But that could just as easily be said of our culture and people in our culture.  As to ugly stories both the church and society produce their equal share. 
Look at our political scene today (in the U.S.) for a new and developing ugly story (and the Christian involvement).  Even as God’s chosen people in the Old and New Testaments are to be a light to the nations, living lives of gratitude, it’s hard to imagine such a reality emanating from the church into the political scene.  For the outsider, it’s difficult to see how Christianity makes much of a difference in people.  But this is just one other interpretation of the ugly stories of the Bible and beyond.  I like your interpretation of the ugly stories of the Bible.  But like the Banner, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on your bandwagon as to being the correct assessment.   Thanks for your thoughts and insights.

You're welcome, Eric! Thanks for saying so!

Indeed, Vern! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for this story - we don't have to ignore the ugliness or darkness of life - it's all part of the whole picture. We can be so thankful that we serve a redeeming God! Our God can take what is ugly and transform it into something beautiful. I've had the privilege of seeing God's redeeming power over and again, working in the lives of those who have suffered sexual abuse.

I've often said that another reason these stories are in the Bible is because God wants us to learn from them. For example, the story of the Rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 discredits so many current myths that surround rape. One of those myths is that rape is passion out of control; rather, as we see in this story, it's far more often pre-meditated violence. This story reveals the folly of blaming the one who has been victimized; there was nothing for Tamar to do - you don't lightly refuse a king's request or take on someone who is much stronger - it was not her fault. It also shows likely responses; the response of those in power, like King David, is often to do nothing. And there are those who, like her brother Absalom, will say, "don't take this to heart", in other words, just get over it. Tamar's response of intense grief over what had been lost is a much more appropriate response. It is comforting to those who have experienced this crime to see that God indeed understands. And we have this record to help the church also understand our own sinful tendencies. And unlike this story with the sad ending, Jesus has come to redeem us. Praise the Lord, our God is a redeeming God, who can turn our ugliness into his beauty and glory. Safe Church has created this resource, to help us learn, even from these darker stories in Scripture.