Friday, September 18, 2015

Delilah's Regret

It occurred to me the other day that there's a pretty good chance Delilah really, bitterly regretted betraying Samson. I suspect that because once the 5,500 pieces of silver (700lbs worth) wears off and you're left with the lonely consequences of your actions things get tend to get ugly. That's a fact of human nature. Two, because I think the text hints at it somewhat, and three, because we know that Delilah was the shadow of Judas, and his regret carried him to the grave.

The first point I take as a matter of course. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth." Conscience is like a spring, you press down on it it'll press back at you. Hold it down with violence and it will lash out and go in another direction. Delilah was already rich and powerful enough to run a house where she could call for a barber, or loom, or for servants to play the role of Philistines to test Samson's love, so is likely more riches would make her feel less empty inside? No. She wasn't some special heartless sociopath, she was an ordinary wealthy woman who was enticed to sin, and ordinary people tend to have a lot of regrets. Especially about big things like turning a man who loved you over to his enemies. Willingness to do evil isn't a sign that the person doesn't feel bad about themselves afterwards, it's just a sign that at the moment they were more to pay the price of suffering to do it. And sin always causes suffering.

As to the text hinting at it, let me start as I always do, by working backwards. What strikes me chiefly in this story is that Samson's hair returned, which allowed him to bring down the entire temple and kill all the nobles who'd captured him in a colossal act of revenge. How do you explain that kind of failure on the part of the Philistines? We know they weren't stupid because they were clever enough to consider Samson carefully and to devise a successful trap for him. It's far more probable then that they didn't know of his weakness, because Delilah never told them the secret of it. 
There are I think two possible explanations  for this:
  1. The Philistines rushed into the room once they were called for and acted as fast as they could, not bothering to interact with Delilah in any way once they saw their moment had come. To this theory we might point out that they text doesn't say they spoke with her after they had their man, "And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles."
    Spurgeon seems to think this is the answer when he says, "I wonder why these Philistines did not take care to keep his hair from growing to any length. If cutting his hair once had proved so effectual, I wonder that they did not send in the barber every morning, to make sure that not a hair grew upon his scalp or chin. But wicked men are not in all matters wise men: indeed, they so conspicuously fail in one point or another that Scripture calls them fools."

  2. That particular revelation wasn't part of the deal. Look at the terms recorded in verse five, "And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, 'Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.'"
    She was to find out his secret, make him weak, then turn him over to them, but communicating to them the secret of his strength isn't mentioned.
I think this second option is far more likely because I happen to know a thing or two about rationalization from my own heart which so often justifies its wickedness. If it were me the thing would've gone like this: "Yes I'm turning him over to them, but I'm not handing him over to death since they said they wanted him alive so that they could humble him and ridicule him. And without the key piece of information he's going to start out weak, but once his hair grows he's going to become strong again, and they won't know why or how to stop it until it's too late. And once that happens he'll have his revenge and come back to me, and all will be well. I'll tell him, "yes I made you weak, but it was my plan all along to rid the earth of them, and now that I have you back you can see that it worked perfectly."
The best parallel I think of to this is in the book 1984, when Winston is captured by the ministry of Truth and tortured for his working with Julia.
"You have whimpered for mercy, you have betrayed everybody and everything. Can you think of a single degradation that has not happened to you?’
Winston had stopped weeping, though the tears were still oozing out of his eyes. He looked up at O’Brien.
‘I have not betrayed Julia,’ he said.
O’Brien looked down at him thoughtfully. ‘No,’ he said; ‘no; that is perfectly true. You have not betrayed Julia.’
The peculiar reverence for O’Brien, which nothing seemed able to destroy, flooded Winston’s heart again. How intelligent, he thought, how intelligent! Never did O’Brien fail to understand what was said to him. Anyone else on earth would have answered promptly that he had betrayed Julia. For what was there that they had not screwed out of him under the torture? He had told them everything he knew about her, her habits, her character, her past life; he had confessed in the most trivial detail everything that had happened at their meetings, all that he had said to her and she to him, their black-market meals, their adulteries, their vague plottings against the Party — everything. And yet, in the sense in which he intended the word, he had not betrayed her. He had not stopped loving her; his feelings towards her had remained the same. O’Brien had seen what he meant without the need for explanation.
That I that hits very nearly on the mark. Because why else would she withhold that critical piece of information from them? If she was fully evil, or totally sold out, she would have no problem betraying Samson in toto. But if she loves him in return, or cares to guard her conscience that she negotiates a limited arrangement, then she's going to not tell them. Which indicates she's a normal human being and would become regretful once the thing turned out worse than she'd planned.

Lastly, I think she regretted betraying him because it carries a very strong resemblance to another betrayal that happened much later in history. There too did a chosen man of God, the leader of all His people love someone and tell them everything. There too was the response to sell him to the authorities for silver behind his back. The authorities then ridiculed and humiliated the man of God, but by the offering of his life he destroyed the rulers and powers in the dark places, and the work of his death became far greater than all the work of his life. 
Can you imagine what it was like when Delilah found out Samson died? "I have betrayed innocent blood," she said. "What's that to us?" comes the reply.
To which there is no answer. Only regret.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Modern Parable

Matthew 13:24-30: 
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’

I was tasked by the wife to clean out the van for a weekend trip this last Friday. You parents know how this goes. You get two great big enormous black garbage bags, a re-breather mask, and gloves for the fight. Then you open the garage door to let as much light in as possible and hope that you can do the task in under an hour, including vacuuming. As I was cleaning however it came to me that if Jesus had come today He'd likely use this as a parable.

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who took two large bags to clean his van. Into the first one went the goldfish crackers, the granola bar wrappers, and the McDonalds cups. Into the second went the clothes, the children toys, and the books. The first bag he put into the trash. The second he carried into the house to sort and keep. So it will be on the day of judgment--God will gather the valuable ones to Himself, and cast the worthless things away from Him.
The genius of the words of Jesus lie in just how ordinary and common place they are. The normal course of life brings them right to us.
Lord save me from the dumpster.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Some thoughts on Faith

Faith. By faith the men of old gained approval. Without faith it's impossible to please God. By faith our forerunners subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the foreign armies. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.
But if you were to define it, or better yet, describe it, how would you? What words would you pick to help show it for what it is?

The ordinary generic understanding of faith is that it's synonymous with belief. Faith in God is means that you believe in Him, and for a general definition I think this is sufficient. But faith is an interesting and multifaceted thing, and seems to change as you consider it over different conditions.

When you compress the essence of it into a single moment I suspect the best word for is trust. That's how Martin Luther translated it into German from the Latin at any rate, and there's a good reason he did so. Casting yourself wholly on God as if He alone and crying out for mercy is a trusting act. You're declaring He's trustworthy enough to make good on your confidence, and you're declaring He's strong enough to support you. A trust fall is a nice concrete image of a moment of faith.
When he put his faith in Jesus the thief on the cross was demonstrating trust in the promise of God alone.

But when you don't compress it into a singularity but instead stretch it across a lifetime, I don't think either trust or belief is the best descriptive word. I think it's faithfulness. A husband is faithful to his wife when he forsakes all others and guards jealously their relationship. A mother is faithful to love her children when she stays up with a sick kid at night. Faithfulness conjures the image of two people helping each other every time the need arises, or someone putting in 40 years at the same company. It's a proven loyalty that endures regardless of difficulty or circumstances. Faith as faithfulness really serves to highlight the fact that the life of faith is a walk, or a continuous journey.

This method of looking at faith is particularly helpful in reconciling the Arminian arguments of "people can have real genuine faith and lose it" with the Calvinist one of "genuine faith perseveres until the end." It's evident that people can have faith in the sense of a genuine moment of trust in Christ (and if they died at that moment go to heaven) and yet not have faith in that they were not faithful until the end. 

My gut tells me there's more to be mined here, but so far these two perspectives to faith is all I've got, so I'll close it here.

The child like faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman

Matthew 15:21-28:
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word.
And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

The other day I understood this in a way that I hadn't before--it was when my daughter was clinging to my leg crying for relief.
I had been holding her and although she'd been fussy that day she'd been fine as long as I held her, but when the wife called from the other room that it was time to make her a bottle I put her down to go make it. No sooner had I set her down than the most pitiful wail of sorrow erupted from her, letting the whole house know the agony of our separation. How cruel was I, turning my back on her and walking away?

How could I explain to her that she needed to eat now and I needed two hands to make the bottle? I couldn't, so I didn't, I just put her down and walked into the kitchen. She of course did the sensible thing, she came at me as fast as she could crawl. 
That's faith.

The syro-phoenician woman is proof that faith is the thing which moves you toward God. Jesus put the woman away, put distance between them, and yet she came on. When He stepped away she came after him. Faith is that which pursues God.

Orthodoxy Chapter 5 - The Flag of the World

So it’s beyond question that our world is a fairy tale, but there’s also no denying that something is seriously wrong with it as well, becau...