Don’t Be Samson and Other Life Lessons

Samson (the one in the Bible) is not a nice guy. But it took me at least until high school to realize this.

Some of you who know the story are rolling your eyes. “What was your first clue? The way he broke basically all of the Ten Commandments? That little incident with the prostitute? Maybe the time he dealt with a breakup by lighting hundreds of foxes on fire to burn down his enemies’ fields?”

In my defense, Samson’s story is so action-packed that it’s often told in Sunday School, and the kiddie version (understandably) sanitizes some of the violence and edits out all the hanky-panky. For a while, without context, Samson seemed like the perfect biblical superhero: strong, brave, and used by God to defeat Israel’s enemies.

Usually accompanied by pictures like this.

Then one day it dawned on me that Samson is a classic antihero, one whose story should come with a content warning label and an announcement that this is a cautionary tale, not a role model profile. Surprise!

The thing is, we like strong characters. People who get things done. Heroes who take action instead of letting life just kinda happen to them. And Samson is that, for sure. Told that way, with that particular slant, he makes a great and uncomplicated story.

But if we don’t watch out, that natural love of an active protagonist can turn into a tricky little lie that I see in the church from time to time: Competence excuses bad judgment. The results matter more than the way you get there. Or, to go from general to specific…

“Fine, maybe I shouldn’t have phrased it like that, but I have a forceful personality. Everything I said was true. Isn’t that enough?”

“I wish people would stop complaining about Leader VonSuperpower—God is in control, and he can use anyone, right? Besides, at least he’s getting things done.”

“She pretends she’s being open-minded, but you know what? I think she’s just too afraid of offending anyone to actually have an opinion on XYZ issue.”

“I love the way Blogger McMegaphone isn’t afraid to say it like it is. Sure, it’s a little cutting sometimes, but the other side is asking for it.”

I’ve heard these things. I’ve said these things. And while I think there’s a little truth in all of them, I also think there’s a little lie in there too.

Be careful when justifying your actions based on your personality. This includes everything from dominating the room by bringing all the attention to yourself or deciding that because you have the ability to launch an intelligent, forceful, crush-you-into-the-dirt argument that you always should.

Be careful when giving unqualified praise to a leader whose character is questionable. Sure, it’s completely valid to separate policies from the person advocating them in order to discuss their merits. Just don’t feel like you need to defend everything that person says or does, and realize that the fact that he has such a poor track record means that emotions are going to be high when  talking about him. (Also, yes, God can use anyone, with or without their obedience, like he did with Samson…but we don’t want a repeat of Judges 13-16 or what follows. That didn’t end well for basically anyone.)

Here’s the Bible Project abridged version if you want a summary.

Be careful when assuming someone who isn’t taking a strong stance on something is being wishy-washy. At first glance, humility and cowardice can look similar. Yes, there are some people who avoid all absolutes because they’re terrified of losing friends in our easily-offended society, and that’s not helpful. But others hold loosely to non-essentials and care more about loving others than being proven right.

And finally, be careful when lauding and reposting writers, especially Christian writers, who speak the truth without love. There’s a place for direct statements and bluntness and even using satire to point out contradictions and absurdities. What I mean here is that if it seems like something was created to pander to the outrage machine that is today’s Internet…don’t waste your time (or others’) on it.

Did God use Samson to do great things? Totally…but in spite of him, not because of him. He was the last deliverer of his era, one step away from rock-bottom in the vicious cycle of Judges that sums itself up with, “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

If that sounds familiar, it should: that’s not a bad description of where we are today. But unlike during the time of the judges, God hasn’t temporarily given the empowerment of his Spirit to one person for a specific task. All Christians have the Spirit of God living within them. With that in mind, let’s not settle for leading like Samsons—or following them, either. Instead, let’s notice the difference between competence and true strength…and choose the right one.

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