March 10, 2016
Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel twenty years. Judges 16:28-31
During the season of Lent, I try to grapple with some of the texts of terror. They are, for me, the texts that are hard to redeem and hard to understand. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to preach from them. They are deeply unsettling and this is one of them. As far as I can tell, Samson commits suicide in the name of the Lord. He dies under the weight of his own purposeful act. What are we to do with this text? How do we reconcile it with the often-promoted notion that taking one’s life is the unpardonable sin?
Beloved, I cannot tell you I am wise enough to have THE answer, but I do offer this response. When you are in a desert place, and Samson was, the way out is never clear or easy, and we are never in a position to judge the actions of a brother or sister. We can say what we hope we would do in the same predicament, but when another acts outside of the bounds of our beliefs, when they act in ways that we cannot condone or understand, and when their lives are lost, I pray we would act like Samson’s family members. I pray we would still claim them as our own (all his family came to gather his remains) and we would tell the story of this soul in a way that seeks to honor the good and the God-like. Easy? Not at all. Possible? According to Judges 16, and the end of Samson’s story, yes. May we seek to follow their ways, if the moment occurs.