Genesis 34 is rife with dishonor and deception. First, Shechem, a gentile prince, rapes Jacob's daughter, Dinah, but then falls in love with her and wants to marry her. Jacob seems oddly unmoved by this horror, but his sons were furious. So they hatched a deceitful plot to get revenge, not only upon Shechem, but also upon all of his people. The sons promised that Shechem could marry Dinah if he and all of his fellow townsmen were circumcised. They agreed to this proposal, but with the intent of ultimately seizing all of Jacob's property. While the townsmen were recovering from circumcision, Dinah's brothers slaughtered them, taking their possessions, wives, and children as booty. Jacob was furious with his sons because he himself was dishonored by their treachery. But the sons stood their ground, angry at their father for his apparent nonchalance over their sister's shame.
As I reflect on this sad story, I'm reminded, first of all, of how we can get stuck in the cycle of sin. For example, someone wrongs a friend in a church group. The wronged party, rather than doing what Jesus commands and going to the perpetrator to reconcile, gossips to her friends. Soon everybody in the group takes sides. Unkindness and unforgiveness abound, crippling the group's ministry. One single sin led to another, to another, and to another. This sort of thing happens all the time, in churches and families, among friends and colleagues.
What can set us free from the seemingly endless cycle of sin? God's grace at work in our hearts can help us to do the right thing, even if we stand alone. Scripture shows us how to act rightly, even if everyone around us wallows in sin. Choosing to do that which honors God is always right. But it can also bring reconciliation and healing to broken relationships and organizations.
Mark Roberts is a regular contributor to TheHighCalling.org and the Senior Advisor and Theologian-in-Residence for Foundations for Laity Renewal. This article is adapted with permission from his original article "Stuck in the Cycle of Sin" at TheHighCalling.org. All rights reserved.