Samson v Thor: Pride and Brokenness

Samson is not and ideal hero of the Bible.  Before his birth Samson’s mother makes a vow.  Her son will be a Nazarite: one who lives a life of purity pleasing to God.  Instead he lives a life to break a mother’s heart.  Samson is vain, rash and violent.  He teases the Philistines, terrorizes the Philistines, and when they push back…Samson exacts terrible revenge.  He slaughters thousands, he burns fields with foxes.  He is a bully.  AND he fraternizes with foreign women.

This last one causes the most trouble.  Samson and Delilah is the last story of the Samson cycle and probably the one most of us know best.  Having spent his adult life, generally harassing the Philistine neighbors,  Samson takes up with another Philistine prostitute, Delilah.

The men of the town offer Delilah an obscene amount of money to find Samson’s weakness.  And she sets about her task with something less than subtlety.  She,     just asks      over and over                   and over                                    and over                                  and over                                        and over.

Samson makes a game of it, at first.  He mocks her with ridiculous answers:  undried bow strings,  no new ropes,    no weave my hair on a loom.   Each she tries and each time he laughs it off.  After all, he is Samson slayer of lions, slaugter or men,  she poses no real threat.

Finally though, finally Delilah gets the truth.  She shaves his head, and calls his enemies.  Samson jumps up sure he will triumph and escape,  he always does…but not this time.  He is stripped of his strength.  In a moment, the source of Samson’s pride is gone and it breaks him.

The Philistines take him easily.  They shackle him, blind him, and set him to degrading labor.

In the recent movie, Thor’s arrogance is more subtle, but just as damning.   Thor, favorite son of Asgard, is eager to prove himself.  Against his father’s wishes, he sets out for revenge on an old enemy.  He takes friends, he treats it like a game, but the consequences are dire.

Yeah, it doesn’t end well there.  Thor is stripped of his position and strength.  In a moment his friends, his family, and the source of his pride are all gone.  and it threatens to break him.
Pride is dangerous.  And its not limited to super heros.  I saw it play out just last week at UMArmy.
Rachel is a darling of her youth group.  A queen bee who just graduated top of her class, head of the cheer leaders, ready to take college by storm in the fall.  This was her fourth Army and she had the perfect trip all planned out.   Except for a few hitches she hadn’t counted on.

Me, for one.  The “not-her-youth-director” that made her group share a room with girls from another church, and turned out to be her Work Team Adult when she’d prefer one of the “cool guys” from her group…or the guy they all called “hot Jesus”.  Worse yet, it was her fourth year, and there wasn’t a wheel chair ramp in sight.  Instead she had to scrap, and paint, put in grab rails, replace door knobs, and lay linoleum (which involved moving a toilet).  Not the most glamorous assignments.  To make matters worse, Thursday night, when Rachel thought she’d finagled us onto another team’s site to build a poarch,  We get assigned a new job, painting and fascia boards.  She literally ran away.
When I tracked her down, she was in tears, and no matter how we talked about the new site, all she could say was “It’s not what I want,  It’s not what I want,  It’s not what I want.”
In that moment, she was stripped of all pretense and control.  I could see Rachel struggling to hang on to her pride.  And it was breaking her heart.

Most of us have been there with Samson, or Thor, or Rachel.  We’ve fooled ourselves. We think pride makes us strong.  But it just makes us hard, even brittle.  It leaves hollows inside us.  And when the world crashes in, we crumble.

We try to live out of pride; we insist on control; we end up broken. But the good news is, God doesn’t leave us broken.  God never leaves us broken.
When pride crumbles, God’s light of hope shines through.  For Samson, that light is 16:22: But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.  The hair of his head began to grow again.  That simple phrase says God is not done with Samson yet.

Now I’d be lying if I even replied that Samson was a perfect picture of repentance.  It is not a humble servant who enters the temple of Dagon, but it is a very different Samson.  He still wants revenge, for himself.  But now he is willing to sacrifice; now he comes with clarity of purpose; now, maybe for the first time, he sees from where his strength comes.  In blindness, Samson catches hold of God’s vision…at least impart.

It is to God, he cries out, and God who empowers him to bring down the temple. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life.

Even if we are uncomfortable with the violence, Samson’s feat is still amazing.  Humiliated and blind, yet God uses Samson to do something greater than ever before.

Thor goes through a similar transformation.  Without ruining the movie, I can tell you Thor is a very different man by the end.  Thor must learn to measure the consequences of his actions, and to see how he affects others.  Through his humiliating exile he becomes a hero to two worlds.  And there is this great moment at then end where he….

Just kidding.  I won’t spoil it, but you should see the movie for yourself.  It has moving stories of redemption, love, and salvation, none of which could happen if Thor clung to the pride that got him cast out of Asgard    (and tasered in New Mexico).  By letting go, he goes on to do something greater than before.

I don’t know what will become of Rachel.  But I know a very different Rachel showed up to the job Friday morning.  The work was small and short, but she spent time with an 80 year old man who hadn’t had company in almost a year.  She connected for the first time with Emilia, a first year girl on our team.  Their backgrounds were completely different, but Rachel stepped in and found a way to mentor her, and included Emilia in her friends games that night.  She even got through the day without killing Alex.   Rachel never got to build that wheel chair ramp,  but when she let that go, God used her to important build relationships.  And maybe that is a greater work.

Pride as a vice can be obvious.  It can lead to addictions or violence.  Sometimes its more subtle.  We can’t delegate tasks, because others won’t do it as well, we hold grudges, when we disagree we walk away instead of working through conflict.  However it manifests, pride leads to broken hearts, broken relationships, broken lives.  Pride breaks us, but God takes our brokenness and re-forms it to greater things;  things we never imagined.
Is there a place of pride in your life right now?  or a place of brokeness?  Is God calling you out of that to something greater?  Take a moment, as the band plays and reflect.  Examine yourself, and when you are ready, come forward.  You can take a swing at the bricks here, and then pick up two pieces.  One you can carry home, the other I invite you to arrange on the table as an offering to God.

Together with God, let us build beauty from brokenness.

Reading Revelation with the Surrealists: Part 2- Perspective

Son of Man (Rene Magritte) At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:  – Revelation 5:5-9

Perhaps Revelation confounds us because it gives us exactly what we want, but not what we expect. By its very nature, John’s vision presents both what is visible and present and what is visible and hidden. It seems intended to to resolve our internal conflict, to satisfy our curiosity. But from the moment we develop a sense of object permanence, we live in the tension Magritte depicts. We don’t know how to live outside of it; we, like John, are ill equipped to perceive within a state of full revelation, and so the results are true and enlightening, but also strange. John hears the one who is worthy called the lion of Judah, but sees a slain lamb. He hears 144000 of Isreal called, but sees an unending multinational gathering. Three times 7 terrors are unleashed on the earth and the result is profound and unending worship.

As we move through the middle chapters of Revelation it is easy to be distracted by images of terror and violence. It is easy to be distracted, to be afraid, to become lost in the form of John’s vision. But always visible, though sometimes hard to see, is the glory of God. The call of Revelation is not fear and judgement, its worship. We should always hold Chapter 4 and 5 before us, viewing all that follows from the foot of the throne. Only from the perspective of glorious, unending worship, can we endure what is to come; both in the book and in our lives.