And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah...of whom the world was not worthy...
I have been convinced for some time that children get far too much glee from pointing out inconsistencies. Say you take an alternate route to the grocery store. Any three year old, who may as well think the sun rises in the west, will announce that you are lost, criticize your decision-making, and give you “better,” unasked for directions. To what else can we credit the longevity of Sesame Street and the ubiquity of the magazine Highlights except a child’s singular joy in noticing one of these things doesn’t belong with the others and the many small ways that two pictures can differ from each other.
As a parent, you sometimes grit your teeth in annoyance, but mostly, you see it for what it is. The world is a bit beyond them, and they are simply trying to make sense of it all. The inconsistencies present to them a new world, and they have to grapple with that. I have often felt that way reading God’s Word. Here is a familiar but different world that is a bit beyond me, and I have to grapple with it.
Take Hebrews 11:32. Here is such a jarring inconsistency that any child would surely explode with delight. Hebrews 11 is the iconic chapter of faith, the sometimes-named Hall of Fame of Faith, which sounds deliciously American, though not especially biblical. And yet, as you read it, the men and women of faith grow out of the pages like mountains. By faith, they are spirited to heaven, condemn the world, then save the world, reverse infertility and old age, become land squatters, prophesy, emancipate an enslaved nation, disperse water like leaves on a sidewalk, implode city walls, and–you get the picture. These are the giants of the faith. As it says in verse 16, God is not ashamed to be called their God. And so the section ends triumphantly with, “…what more shall I say?” What else, indeed.
But, apparently, the writer to the Hebrews can’t help himself. The great faithful ones keep popping into his head. Who can forget these great men of faith: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah…wait…what? These guys? Fearful Gideon who needed five different miracles before he would trust God? Barak isn’t even the main character in his own story! Deborah had to lead him by the hand into battle. Jephthah’s “faith” in God led him to turn his daughter into a burnt offering and a family squabble into genocide. And then Samson. Oh, Samson. He was tasked with one job from God: to free Israel from the Philistines. So he got self-destructively hooked on Philistine women. When Delilah came on the scene, she didn’t even have to disguise the fact that she was trying to destroy him.
And here at verse 32, my inner preschooler can’t resist shouting backseat instructions to God. You’re going the wrong way. These guys are more failure than success. This doesn’t fit. Yet here they are, and this is the strange world that God asks us to grapple with—a world where failures sometimes find themselves celebrated for faith, where grace is beyond us, and our thoughts about faith are challenged.
You see, Hebrews 11 isn’t about the power of faith for awesome deeds. It is the battle between faith and cynicism. Verse 1 tells us that faith is being sure of hope and trusting in what we can’t see. All these people—yes, even Samson—looked forward to God’s promises and held onto God. They trusted in what they couldn’t yet see. A better Kingdom was coming, and all failure, sin, and disappointment, even the rolling of eyes, would be dealt with and undone. Only vision empowered by grace can have the faith to take the long view of things and to see past hurt and brokenness.
For how could you not become cynical in Samson’s time? God promises you a kingdom then raises up a great warrior to defeat your enemy, but Samson practically trips over himself to give his power away and become a slave to said enemy. Wow. Might be time to set our sights lower. Here’s prudence: keep your cards close and your opinions harsh. Dole out little hope and less grace. And give up on the whole Kingdom thing anyway, ‘cuz listen, kid, the bottom always drops out. We knew it would.
But faith says to keep looking ahead. For there is a strange grace that lurks at the bottom of dry wells and at the feet of all failures, and it is the only kind of grace there ever was. Grace gave a blind, imprisoned Samson the faith to see that the Kingdom comes not through power, but through sacrifice, and only then did he do his task. Faith says to you in disappointment, failure, and cynicism to take the long view, for Christ has dealt with sin. And He will come again, and then hope will be true. He is the Kingdom. He is the rest. And one day, He will make all things new.