Explore the Bible: Compromised Potential

• The Explore the Bible lesson for Feb. 12 focuses on Judges 16:4-6, 13-20.

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• The Explore the Bible lesson for Feb. 12 focuses on Judges 16:4-6, 13-20.

The story of Samson and Delilah is ancient but as relevant as today’s headlines. A man in a position of authority is undone, forever shamed, by his involvement in an inappropriate relationship with a woman to whom he is not married.

The Scripture says Samson “fell in love with a woman.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with falling in love as long as that “falling” doesn’t also lead to moral stumbling. Men and women alike fall in love all the time, sometimes with the wrong person. To be tempted to fall in love with the wrong person only proves our humanity. How we act out that temptation is the proof of our character.

In particular, we’ve all known ministers, both men and women, who fell in love with the wrong person, acted on it and lost not only their job, but also their careers and their reputations, if not their families as well. Unfortunately, the ministerial landscape is littered with the corpses of ministries that might have been but never will be. If there is a more common temptation to moral failure facing ministers, it would be difficult to determine what that might be.

Presumed strengths can become weaknesses

It would appear Samson knew his strengths well. He’d demonstrated them over and over, so he had a reputation as a man who could not, would not, be defeated. It may well be that Samson was reading his own press clippings and took his strength for granted. In the end, his greatest strength also turned out to be his greatest vulnerability.

With rarest exception, it is in those places where we believe we are strongest and least capable of failing that we are most tempted. Many of us have said, at one time or another, “I would never” do such and such. The aspiration is admirable. It’s also a terrible vulnerability.

I’ve known people, for example, who have said they never would have an affair under any circumstances. Or, they swore that the word “divorce” never would be a part of their marriage’s vocabulary. They thought that making the promise was equivalent of keeping it, only to discover that, in their promise, they assumed the matter was settled. 

One day, they then find themselves terminating their marriage wondering how it ever happened. In my experience, wherever I promise not to do a particular thing, I must then pay particularly careful attention to that matter. Making the promise can lull us into believing we no longer are vulnerable in that area.

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This writer once made that mistake. I swore divorce never would be a word in my vocabulary. Without realizing, that self-promise led me to take my marriage for granted, and almost a quarter-century ago, I lost that marriage. I’ve been happily married now for 20 years. That’s true because of the forgiving grace of God. It also is true because the one thing I don’t do now is take my marriage for granted. I protect and nurture it like every day of faithful loving counts—because it does.

Samson obviously was not only a man of great strength, but also great handsomeness as well. He appears to have presumed these to be his greatest assets without also recognizing them as the character weaknesses they also were.

We judge at our own peril

The unique challenge of these kinds of stories is it is easy for all of us to stand in judgment of one, like Samson, who surrenders his covenant with God to the passion of the moment. We judge at our own peril. We also presume that another’s character weakness is not also ours.

We often fail to realize that those things for which we judge others are within easy reach of our own vulnerabilities. Often, our anger at others over moral failure is only exposing those things with which we silently and secretly struggle ourselves.

One of the most interesting examples of this truth can be seen in the story of Adam and Eve. God ordered them not to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden as recorded in Genesis 3. When God confronted Adam for eating the fruit anyway, Adam said to God, “‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:12). 

In other words, when confronted with his own moral failure, he blamed the woman who offered the fruit and the God who gave him the woman, too.  In truth, Adam’s own moral weakness led him to failure.

In an almost humorous way, the Scripture reports: “After (Delilah) had nagged (Samson) with her words day after day, and pestered him with her words, he was tired to death. So he told her his whole secret” (Judges 16:16-17).

How many men have blamed their moral failures on the “nagging” of their wives? One of the greatest of all spiritual disciplines is that of not surrendering our responsibility for our own weaknesses, accepting them for what they are and paying diligent attention to those failures of which we are uniquely capable. When we deceive ourselves, it won’t be long until we are deceiving others, even those who love us most.

Then, like Samson, we may find ourselves still loved by God and yet having surrendered the potential life that could have been ours to the passion of the moment. Disciples of Jesus find some way of keeping the bigger, eternal picture in mind.

Glen Schmucker is a hospice and pediatric hospital chaplain in Fort Worth.

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