Yes, we know joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Yes, there is the breath taking hope of resurrection life. My longest standing and dearest friends are other believers, and there have been innumerable times when I have given thanks for the miracle of the local church which so often abounds in kindness. But, still, there are those moments, or days, when it can feel that life would be more straightforward if I were like any other man.
Pressures internal and external can lead to – in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ phrase – spiritual depression. Being a Christian in secular Britain means being in a minority, and holding firm to one’s identity against the grain of the majority is tiring. The cultural drift away from Biblical values is now so strong, and the currents of compromise swirling so rapidly within the church, it is tempting, at times, to just let go – maybe grab a fragment of drift wood to hold on to as a reminder of what was, but let the torrent take you where it will.
The story of Samson is often told as a morality tale about lack of godly character and sexual control: a morality tale certainly not without application in our society. But to read it only that way is to miss how much more it has to teach us about the demands of living as a spiritual minority. Samson’s downfall is enacted as worn down by Delilah’s pleadings he finally reveals the secret of his great strength:
And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” [Judges 16:17]
Revealed here is more than simply Samson giving into nagging. Throughout his life Samson displays a proneness to get close to the edge – to be in places and with people where compromise is the likely outcome. Samson is called to be a hammer to the Philistines but he seems to like them, and likes their culture. Yes, he kills lots of them, but he also parties with them. It looks very much as if he wishes he was one of them – that his “I shall be like any other man” is not just a factual statement of what will happen should his hair be cut, but an expression of desire. I think Samson wasn’t only tired of Delilah’s pleadings: he was tired of his calling.
We should always be careful what we wish for, and Samson soon has reason to regret his inconstancy. The climactic scene of the story is Samson’s cry to God for one last experience of who he really is – YHWH’s man, empowered with strength, to liberate Israel from the Philistine oppressor. Being like any other man didn’t prove to be so liberating after all.
Centuries later the whole nation of Israel is displaying Samson-like longings, but YHWH is unwilling to let them plunge into the abyss:
“What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’” [Ezekiel 20:32]
To exchange the living God for idols of wood and stone is madness, but it is a madness into which Israel and Samson wanted to plunge. It is a madness into which Christians can fall, too. All around I see Christians beginning to side with the majority – not only on the externals (stylistic things, where we should be contextualising) but on essential things (gender roles and identity, and the nature of the atonement, being perhaps the most obvious current examples). Like Samson, we can desire to party with the Philistines, but run the danger of ruin.
Being a minority is often hard. The desire to be like everyone else is understandable. But wood and stone are poor substitutes for faithfulness to Christ. As the apostle Paul discovered, compared with gaining Christ, all else is dung [Philippians 3:8]. Samson found that out the hard way – better by far to learn from his mistakes, and not repeat them.