As the story of Samson attests, “God uses people with all their human shortcomings”

July 11, 2012

Samson is our Bible hero in this week’s sermon. He is perhaps my least favorite “Sunday school hero,” in part because he reminds me of bullies who used to pick on me in school! In my mind, he’s not a very heroic hero. On that note, however, John Goldingay once again offers a nice insight, this time into the way God uses badly flawed people to accomplish his purposes. Regarding Samson and the events of Judges 14-15, he writes:

We noted in connection with Judges 3 how the Old Testament is happy to see several levels of explanation in events. Here too there are two levels of significance in what happens. Samson does what he wants to do; God is using that. God wants to end the domination of the Philistines over the Danites and intends to use Samson to that end. God doesn’t insist on having honorable people as agents in bringing things about; we have noted that this might mean waiting forever. God uses people with all their human shortcomings. So when God’s spirit comes on someone, its concern is with doing something powerful, not immediately with doing something moral, though an event such as Samson’s tearing the lion apart does form part of God’s moral purpose in putting down the Philistines. The same is true of his striking down the Philistines in Ashkelon. You could say Samson did something wrong, but that can also contribute to the achieving of God’s intentions with regard to the Philistines.[†]

John Goldingay, Joshua, Judges & Ruth for Everyone (Louisville: WJK, 2011), 137-8.

3 Responses to “As the story of Samson attests, “God uses people with all their human shortcomings””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Samson is certainly a puzzling character. About the only specific thing he is recorded as doing which smacks of positive religiosity is praying at the close, and that for purposes of revenge! Yet he is listed in the “roll call of the faithful” in Hebrews 11. Perhaps a heartfelt “calling out to God”–recognizing his existence, power, and concern–was enough in his case. (I don’t know, of course. Who knows whether he may have done some good things not recorded?)

    I do find Samson interesting in the category of “achieving God’s purposes.” In your earlier post, you took issue with the notion of “everything having a reason.” I can see why you take that position (unless I’m wrong about it) with respect to certain “catastrophes,” whether affecting huge groups (like floods) or an individual (like getting cancer). However, I think it’s a close question. God told Moses, “Who made the mute and the blind?!” And Amos says, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” Amos 3:6 (NIV). See also Isaiah 45:7 (NIV). “Not a sparrow falls to the ground, without your Father,” Jesus says. And, regarding that same passage, how can we be sure of God’s “taking care of us” if there is a lot of “random activity” out there?

    Well, I guess my view goes back to God’s foreknowledge and accompanying ordination. I think God knows what we will turn out to be like (without making us to be like that, incomprehensible as that may be), and then puts us when and where he does in history and environment to “bring out of us” what we have in our hearts (and “improve” us who are his own). So, even though things are “random” from our perspective, I don’t think they are from God’s–even the “disasters.” I take comfort from that fact–yet, simultaneously, am terrified because of my knowledge of what is in my heart to be “brought out”!

    • brentwhite Says:

      I agree it’s a “close question” in many cases. I’m not willing to rule out that God causes natural or personal catastrophes sometimes, but I completely reject human-caused evil as having a divine cause. The hard-line Calvinist does not. It’s all a part of God’s inscrutable purposes, etc. Given Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, we don’t often need God to “cause” bad things in order for God to work good through them. That’s a sure promise. I also make note of Luke 14(?) and that tower falling on those people. (Sorry, I’m at the beach, away from my laptop or Bible.) Jesus, when given a golden opportunity to say, “God caused this disaster,” refused. We should be circumspect and humble in the same way.

      But I totally see the comfort, at times, in seeing Providence in such an ironclad way. For what it’s worth, the weight of Christian tradition is not on the Calvinist side. When I say it’s all going to work out and that should give us comfort, I mean ultimately… On the other side of resurrection… God doesn’t have to work it all out in history. Our hope is in resurrection. We can afford to wait for resurrection.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Brent, first, I readily agree that all things won’t get worked out until the resurrection, and that is our hope. I also agree that God does not “cause” anyone to sin. “For God cannot be tempted to sin, neither does he tempt any man.” Further, the Tower of Saloam (sp?) falling on particular people is not a “sure sign” that they were worse sinners than others who died less “tragically.” So we probably agree more than disagree.

        But, I note the case of Ahab’s demise. God held a “jam session” with various angelic beings (good and bad, apparently–see Job 1-2 as to God’s conversation with Satan) about how to take Ahab down, since it was “his time.” One came forward and said, “I will put a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets.” God said, “Go, and do that, and you will succeed.”

        So, did God “cause” the lying prophets to lie? I think God let each “person” do the very thing he wanted to do (both the demon and the prophet). I think God allows demons to “whisper in the ear” to suggest something that would be a sin if followed through on. But God never so whispers himself. That may seem a strained distinction, but I think the key is that if there is ever a “whisper in the ear” to do a sin, we know God was not the “whisperer,” and we shouldn’t listen to the suggestion.

        The ultimate point I’m trying to make with that example, though, is that even the sins “sift through” the hand of God to be “permitted” before they can occur, and their occurrence has the ultimately good purpose of bringing out (or improving) the hearts of men, as well as whatever other purposes God may have, such as working out the events to bring about the crucifixion. In that last respect, consider also as further relating to the point Jesus’ statements to Judas and Peter. “What you do, do quickly.” “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you ….”


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