By Andy Wrasman
In recent decades, intentionally committing suicide to kill those who are your enemies has been almost exclusively associated with Middle Eastern religions, while many argue that all forms of terrorism have no role or place in religions that have been connected to the terror. A recent argument has stated that a historical example in the Bible demonstrates God has condoned similar actions as those of suicide bombers.
The argument is that Samson, one of Israel’s most well-known judges amongst Christians and non-Christians, died in such a way that if a Christian were to condemn the acts of terrorists they must also condemn the way in which Samson took his life to kill his enemies. The example of Samson raises the question, is it justifiable to kill yourself if it is to kill enemies of God?
If you are unfamiliar with Samson’s life and death, it can be found in Judges 13-16, but the following is a condensed outline of events of his life that lead up to his suicidal death.
Samson was the product of a miraculous conception (Judges 13:3). His mother was told that he should be a Nazarite from birth! A Nazarite vow entailed no drinking of alcohol or cutting of the hair from the time the vow was taken, hence, Samson never had his hair cut. Samson is known for his superman strength. Samson attributes his great strength to having been a Nazarite from birth. Once his hair is cut, he loses his strength and is captured by the Philistines. They gouged out his eyes, and then gathered to offer a sacrifice to their god, Dagon. They had Samson shackled and were entertained by his failure and misery. Samson requested to be able to rest against the pillars that held up the roof of the courtyard, where three thousand Philistines were gathered, men, women, and children. Samson then prayed, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” He then tore down the building by pushing on the two pillars that held up the roof. Scripture says that he died there with them and that he killed more Philistines in his death than during his life.
This passage of Scripture can certainly be troubling. It means that God empowered Samson to kill not only himself but also women and children. He wasn’t just killing the men who captured him and took his eyes. There are answers to this moral conflict that fit within the Biblical worldview that can ease the tension we sense over this horrible calamity, but outside of the Christian worldview they likely won’t satisfy. There are also some very clear ways in which this event is far different from God giving his approval on such acts as suicide bombing.
First, Samson was a judge over Israel, the people of God. His position was appointed by God. Justice needed to be served. The false god and the temple of the Philistines should not prevail against the real God of the universe. Samson prayed to the Lord and asked for vindication against the enemies of God, and he was willing to offer his own life in the process. His death was not a self-righteous vindication either. He was laying his life down for the good of God’s people that they might be spared from their enemies, even if it cost him his own life.
Second, Samson’s strength always came from God. He attributed it to his long hair and vow, but in his final prayer, he is acknowledging that his strength was from the Lord, not his hair. Scripture says that the Philistines were entertained by the spectacle of Samson, their enemy, captured and blinded. The entertainment must have come from laughing and mocking him. They likely were calling on him to save himself, to perform a great act of strength as he had done before. Since he was a judge, a representative of God, the Philistines in the house of Dagon were thus mocking and challenging the one true God. Foreshadowing and pointing to Jesus’ death, Samson gave his life to put an end to the enemies of God. Jesus Christ, when he was mocked, delivered a death blow to sin, death, and the devil, and reconciled all of humanity back into a right relationship with God through the shedding of his own blood.
Third, Samson’s death was far different from that of a suicide bomber. Samson was captured, his eyes had been taken, he was shackled, and he was likely going to be put death. The taking of his own life was clearly done through supernatural powers given by the Lord on account of his request for vengeance against his enemies. A suicide bomber on the other hand is not doing anything supernatural. Bombs are not supernatural, thus cannot be confirmed to be approved by God. Suicide bombers have not been captured, they have not been tortured, and they are not being held captive and mocked in an act of worship towards the god of their enemies.
Fourth, the Biblical worldview accepts that all life comes from God and it is His to give or take. All humans die as punishment for our sin (man, woman, and child, Romans 5:12). When and how death shall come is a matter left to God. When suicide bombers take their own lives and the lives of others, it means that God has allowed the evil action to occur. His allowance does not mean that he ordains it to be good. Samson’s sacrificial death brought glory to God and confirmed to all the remaining Philistines that the God of Israel is real and he is not to be mocked. The death of the Philistines quite possibly led to others in their community to repent and be brought to saving faith in the one true Lord, forsaking their worship of Dagon. The hope that we have from the Bible is that no matter what occurs, God will work through all situations for the good of his people who love him (Romans 8:28).
Sampson in a Modern World
Andy Wrasman has a BA in Theological Studies and a MA in International studies from Concordia University Irvine. He regularly engages in faith-based conversations with adherents of various religions. From these experiences he has launched Contradict Movement (www.contradictmovement.org) and has published his first book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True. If you would like to ask Andy a question to be featured in our next issue, please e-mail Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org.