Rethinking My Heroes

Golden statue of Samson in Peterhof, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Hebrews 11:32, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson…

Samson. In my mind I used to envision this overly muscular monstrosity of a man. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Back before he was ever the governor of California. Samson was ripped. Or at least that was how I imagined he must have appeared. I honestly think the whole idea came from some comic books that I read when I was a young boy. In typical comic book fashion all of the Biblical heroes were drawn to reflect physical strength. All you had to do was look at the artist’s rendering of Samson and it was easy to understand how he had managed such magnificent feats of strength. He must have spent hours in the gym. The man was literally made of muscle. Even his muscles had muscles. For me he was the ultimate hero. In fact, he could have easily had that giant red “S” emblazoned on his chest.

As I have grown older my regard for Samson has changed in two primary ways. First of all, I no longer see Samson as a OT version of Superman. Especially not in regard to his physique. In fact, I imagine Samson might have been something of a wimp in the natural. Probably undersized. Small. Thin. Fragile by all appearances. Think about it. Throughout the Bible God chose the weak to confound the strong. Had Samson possessed any measure of natural strength than his feats of triumph could have easily been dismissed as the result of natural power. But I believe that God wanted everyone to know that it was His strength, not Samson’s strength, that had been the catalyzing force in each of his acts. To the outside observer Samson’s accomplishments must have made no natural sense. Imagine, some long-haired, toothpick of a guy defeating an entire army? Tearing a lion apart with his bare hands? Hauling off the gates of a city? It didn’t make sense to anyone who saw it. There really was only one explanation. God was at work both in and through this weak, frail vessel of a man named Samson.

My second change of heart with regard to Samson has to do with the whole concept of the heroic. Samson’s acts were certainly heroic. But his attitude? His character? At times he comes across as more of a villain. Hypocrisy. Deceit. Anger. Lust. Selfishness. Rebellion. I must say that none of those qualities would probably fall on anyone’s hero list. A closer look at the story of Samson shows a very flawed man. He was far from perfect. Far from worthy of the veneration that I bestowed upon him in my earlier years. Apart from his sporadic feats of strength there is really very little worth emulating in the man’s life. If anything, he serves as a prime example of how not to live your life as a child of God.

But here’s the thing… in spite of all his failings, in spite of all his character flaws, God used Samson in a dramatic and powerful way. Through Samson’s weakness God demonstrated His strength and grace. Not just physically. But more importantly, with regard to his tainted and troubled character. See, for years I had it all wrong. In truth, Samson was never the hero of the story. God was the hero of Samson’s story. God was the catalyst Who empowered the testimonies of triumph. God was the One who used a man in spite of his flawed and finite condition. And that, my friend, gives me tremendous hope.

Why? Because if I am willing to be honest, I must recognize that I am far more like Samson then I care to admit. I am weak. I am flawed. I am prone to the same soulish struggles that defined his life. Who among us hasn’t wrestled with hypocrisy? Which one of us has never lied or sought to deceive? Lust? From food to pornography not a one of us is exempt. The temptation may vary from person to person but we all fight against ungodly appetites and desires. We all fail. We all fall. Not a one of us is perfect or without sin. Just like Samson, we more closely resemble the villain than we do the hero.

But also… just like Samson, we can be used of God in spite of our weaknesses and frailties. No, that’s not a license to sin. But it does mean that His grace is sufficient. Sufficient for my every weakness. Sufficient for my every shortcoming. Sufficient for my every mistake and failure. Sufficient for my every sin. Samson was not perfect. But he served a perfect God. And in the end, that was all that was necessary. I’m not making excuses for Samson’s choices. And I’m certainly not making any for mine. But I am saying that we shouldn’t let Samson’s failures overshadow the story’s true Hero. God was and always will be the Hero in this life. Not just in Samson’s life. But in ours as well.