December 22, 2010
What can I say about Judges 17-21? No, seriously, what can I say? It’s pretty bleak, and very brutal. There are two stories really. Chapter 17 tells us of Micah and Levite. In short: Micah steals his mother’s silver but then gives it back because she curses the person who stole it, then she is happy to have it back so turns it into an idol. Okay… Then Micah meets a wondering Levite who is “going to live wherever I can find a place” so he employs to be his priest. Then in chapter 18 the Danites, who are on the look out for territory and spy some where the people are “quiet and unsuspecting” take Micah’s priest and idol for their own and when Micah complains they threaten to attack him. All unpleasant enough, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The second story is not one I want to recount; it’s a bit like the story of Sodom only without divine intervention and with some war and kidnap added on the end. Both this story and chapter 34 of Genesis, which I read yesterday, involved rape, and I don’t want to brush over that fact. Especially today’s which is horribly disturbing in every way. This is the stuff that reminds us not all of the Bible was written to instruct or inspire us. Some is written to show how far astray humanity can and has gone.
I began to write an exploration of the statement that ends the book; “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” I wanted to explore whether having a king made them any better, but more than that whether any one could ever really think any of this was “right”. But I don’t know where those ideas are leading… I seem to go around in circles. The fact is that I’m heart-broken by what I read in these chapters, especially chapter 19. It is a similar feeling to reading or hearing about the atrocities committed against women in the Congo or other parts of the world in which rape is used as a weapon of war.
These stories force me to face the darker side of humanity. They don’t, as others may suggest, prove to me that we are innately wicked and that is why Israel behaved this way without God to guide them (you may like to read my post on Genesis 1-3 for my thoughts on that subject). But they do confront me with the inescapable truth; that parts of the world and parts of ourselves that seem so so far from God, and there people who have forgotten or never knew that they were made in his image. And I am not talking about atheism. There are countless humanitarian and compassionate atheists in this world, I’m talking of a much deeper forgetting.
Perhaps this is not the inspirational post you signed up for (I do see and appreciate the subscriptions, thank you), but then the Bible’s not really what any of us signed up for is it? Not all of it. We signed up for ‘Love God and Love your neighbour’ perhaps, or ‘I am the Way the Truth and the Life’, or ‘freed from the letter of the law to live in the spirit of the law’, but not many of us signed up for facing rape, murder and kidnap. But perhaps those of us who are privileged enough to only read about such trauma have the duty to face it, to remember that it is not just archaic horror recorded in a book, but present in the world today. It is something that we should care about, something that should break our hearts open. Jesus did not take kindly to those who bubble wrapped themselves into cozy lives and tried to keep the worst of the world out. So perhaps Judges 17-21 has done me a service today, strange though it may seem.
But, to end, I do believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. And there are lights all over the world including the Heal Africa Hospital who, among many other things, seek to heal the women in the Congo who have been abused like our nameless woman in chapter 19. May God bless them.
December 14, 2010
Risky (risque) title. But what’s blogging for if not being a bit controversial? And Samson does end his own life by bringing a building down on top of the people he sees as the oppressors of his people. More than that he does it after praying to God to give him strength for this very act. Okay, so there’s no actual bomb, although Samson himself is unpredictably explosive. But I’ve started at the very end, let’s go back a little.
Judges 13-16 (I read 12 but it probably won’t get much of a mention, sorry!) recounts stories from Samson’s life; his birth, his marriage, his loves, his mistakes, his death and a lot of very angry bits in between. He rips apart a lion, kills 30 people in a rage over lost linens and he rips an entire city gate from its posts and bar up from the ground and carries it off (that’s actually pretty cool). But here’s my personal favourite:
Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men. (15:15)
No, this is not the synopsis for the new Incredible Hulk film, it’s the Bible. But I must admit I imagine Samson pretty much as the Hulk with dreadlocks: “Samson angry. Samson smash skulls with donkey jaw.” You know, that kind of thing. He certainly seems more Goliath than David!
But he’s a judge of Israel. Unlike the other judges mentioned in this book, it is stories from his personal life, rather than his political and military action, that are related here. Why? Are they meant to inspire? Are they meant to warn? Or to show that even the Nazarite, the one chosen before birth and set apart for God (chapter 13) is deeply flawed and falls short of what he is meant to be?
Well I think it is partly that, but there’s a problem. Pretty much every time Samson goes on enraged rampage we are told that “the spirit of the Lord rushed on him” (14:6, 14;19, 15:14). So the going to see prostitutes (16:1), abandoning his wife 15:19-20) and general weakness for the ladiiieees (notably Delilah, who is instrumental his downfall, of course) can be put down to character flaw, but the violence? Apparently that’s from God.
Struggling with this as I have been today, I read a Bible study book which, though helpful in parts made some quite questionable points. One was the comparison of Samuel to a “good pair of scissors”; God’s tool purchased for a special purpose, his “implement of salvation” if you will. Erm, is there something I’m not getting here? It seems to me like Samson gets angry and kills people because of personal feuds not for the greater good. And I’m not sure I even believe in violence for the greater good at all, unless there are exceptional exceptional circumstances. Even though we are in the context of Philistine dominance, does this justify the apparently indiscriminate acts of violence Samson engages in?
A big question is raised here for me: can violence be condoned, let alone inspired, by God? I feel uncomfortable saying I don’t believe what the Bible says, but I can’t believe that God’s spirit inspired someone to kill 1000 people with a donkey’s jaw bone! That ain’t the Holy Spirit I know, no siree. And I don’t think he killed for any honourable reason by the way; it was all vengeance, which I heard was supposed to be left up to God.
The same Bible study calls its section on chapters 14-15 “The Need for Conflict”. Hmm. He uses the quotation “There is in truth no such thing as harmonious co-existance between the church and the world, for where there is no conflict the world has taken over” (Michael Wilcock). Hmmm. The argument goes that the Israelites do not cry out under Philistine rule but God raises up Samson “to create conflict” any way; “The message to today’s church is clear – conflict is necessary part of our message.” Well it’s not clear to me matey!
Okay, so in a way I agree. We need to be a prophetic (and by the I mean truth-telling) voice, calling for justice and compassion in a world that gets it wrong a lot of the time. But aren’t we supposed to bless the world too? Isn’t the best evangelism to live in a way that exemplifies God’s love and blesses others through that love? Love can be tough, but it rarely involves donkey-bone-beatings. Sorry, I’ll stop with donkey bone now, it’s just such an odd little biblical detail!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should never get angry. I used to think there was no such thing as ‘righteous anger’, it seemed like an oximoron. Often when I read the papers or see atrocities on the news it is heartbreak rather than anger I feel. But when I hear the Eton educated George Osbourne tell us “we’re all in this together” while he cuts benefits and fails to bring in taax evaders I get angry. And I think that’s okay, as long as it spurs action. Though I think Hulk, sorry Samson, and I have different ideas about what that action should be.
There are still people in the world who think that anger at injustice should be expressed through indiscriminate killing. Some even believe that this expression is God’s will (of many different religions not just the stereotyped ones). Perhaps the tale of Samson’s life is a tale of someone who got it wrong. He felt the spirit of God move within him and he mistook that for a licence to kill. Chapter 16 tells of a man brought down low, reduced to a shadow of his former (rather Hulkish) self whose last desperate act is to bring others down with him. How can this message be that the church should follow his lead? How?
My prayer is that the Spirit of the Lord moves us all into action where we see injustice and evil. But I don’t see Samson as a role model, I prefer his mum actually. But like I said yesterday, it’s hard to find an upstanding role model in the Bible. Well, there’s a pretty good one in the gospels actually, but that’s another day’s post.
Sometimes it’s hard for to find a clear cut lesson from the Bible too. But there’s always a lot to chew over, to meditate upon, to wrestle with. How do we express anger? How do fight injustice? How do we respond when God’s Spirit moves in us?
Good questions, any one got any goo answers?
P.S. I’ve had a big crisis (and an extended facebook discussion!) as whether to keep this title or not. I don’t like the thought of offending any one. It’s just what comes to mind for me, and I’m trying to be honest about my experience of reading this stuff. Peace.