Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sin and Stupidity; Faith and Sacrifice

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (Hebrews 11:32-34, NKJV).
Samson brings to mind the Old Testament equivalent of a modern, egotistical athlete, rock star, or Hollywood celebrity. Someone who has fallen under the spell of his or her own public relations propaganda, or love-struck fan base.

He was a braggart, a hedonist, a strong man, and an idiot.

His nemesis was neither the Philistines, nor Delilah the porn star. It was his own conviction of self-worth and entitlement.

As such, there was nothing unique about this Judge of Israel except his physical power.

He began well, with all kinds of advantages, spiraled quickly into self-destruction during adulthood, and ultimately ended up a humiliated slave in Phillistinian captivity, a victim of his own lust and hubris.

Samson was a self-made "tool" in the most derogatory sense. He thought he could handle anything, and his delusional self-confidence resulted in monumental stupidity. It is impossible to read the account of his ridiculous exploits in Judges without thinking, "Seriously? He fell for that, again?"

Yet, he is honored here in Hebrews as a champion of faith, despite his egregious, larger-than-life failures. And that, like all of Hebrews, is very good news for all of us, who, at times in our own lives, mimic to some degree this man's incredible failures of wisdom.

The key to his entrance into the Hall of Faith is this: despite himself, he ended well.

His life, filled with sin and failure, stupidity and pride, did not, on the very threshold of death, overcome what proved to be even stronger than his supernatural physique: his faith in the God of Israel.

In the end, he believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

He brought the idolatrous, satanic temple of the Philistines down upon their own heads in an act of glorious self-sacrifice that he had been prepared for since birth as a Nazirite. In a very real sense, it was something only Samson could accomplish.

Cruelly blinded, hopelessly chained, humiliated in utter defeat, he dedicated himself one last time to his God and fulfilled the divine purpose of his life - defeating the oppressors of Israel.

His butchered hair symbolized his cutting himself off through sin from his only source of strength - his God - and resulted in his ignominious capture.

His unshorn locks represented the renewal of his unshackled faith, even while held in inescapable captivity in his enemy's most formidable stronghold.

By faith, his enslavement became freedom; his death life; his humiliation victory.

That's what faith does. It turns the world on its head. It takes the offscourings of this life - the weak, the ignoble, the foolish, the ridiculous - and transforms us into the heroic.

That's why the Gospel of Christ is the greatest gift God could possibly bestow to His fallen creatures, for it is through simple, child-like faith, not works of bravery or valor or might, that we are granted entrance into His Kingdom.

Ironically, and in keeping with God's documented desire to upset the world's apple cart, it is often the weakest and most unexpected among us that He enables to perform His greatest works - by faith and through faith.

Remember that the next time you see Goliath on the horizon, or you feel the crushing weight of this sinful world on your head, and take heart. Your God is with you.