Um, okay…

February 21, 2011

Dear reader, it’s been a while. Have you missed me? Well, okay, I suppose 6 days isn’t really that long, but since this was originally a daily blog it feels like an awfully long time to me.

I’ve been very tired recently and am determined not to make blogging another stick to beat myself with, so I gave myself a little break. It may also have been to do with the incredibly low level of inspiration I’ve got from 1 Samuel 11-15, in which we learn about the misguided as short-lived reign of Israel’s first king; Saul. The dominant thought that arises while reading this rip-roaring war-fest is ‘seriously, this guy?’.

God anoints Israel’s first king and, well, he’s not very good! Perhaps this is because God didn’t want Israel to have a king. As I wrote in my last post on this book, it’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. But then we’re used to flawed protagonists in the Bible, aren’t we? I mean apart Joseph, Daniel, Mary and Ruth I can’t think of many irreproachable characters, can you? (yes, Jesus too, obviously!).

The bit that really gets me, then, is not any of Saul’s rashness, but what appear’s to be God’s! In Chapter 15 Samuel tells Saul that the Lord has ordered him:

Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

Um, okay.

So what does Saul do? He kills everyone, adults and children alike, but spares the King takes the good cattle for his troops and to sacrifice to God. And for this heinous crime he’s told that that’s the end of his anointed kingship.

Um, okay.

Any one else find it difficult to believe that God ordered the killing of entire people? I mean, as the kids say, WTF? (excuse my implied language).

And I’m afraid I don’t have a snappy wrap-up or turn-around. I feel I need to read more about these stories to understand them better but as it stands I find this section of the Bible hard to get fired up about, at least fired up in a good way. But I needed to write something, just to get back on the bloggin wagon, I knew it wouldn’t be pretty, but here it is.

I wanted to be honest about that with you guys, because this is a blog about experience, not insight. And right now I’m finding it hard, perhaps you find some of the Bible hard too; that’s okay. But it that could all change tomorrow. Bring on the psalms.

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.