“Discerning God’s Presence”

I have been teaching an Old Testament class this semester at the college.  We just made our way through the Pentateuch and on into the Historical Books (Joshua, Judges, etc…).  It is an introduction class so we do not have a great deal of time to focus on all the individual stories and their details.  In Judges however, we stopped to pay attention to the story of Samson (Judges 13-16).  This story is a sad story.  Although I have seen it glorified in cartoon and movie forms, as the story of love and passion between Samson and Delilah, or more generally, the great Superhero strength of Samson like that of Hercules; these kinds of interpretations really miss the whole point of the story.

At this time in history, Israel as a nation is lost spiritually; everyone was “doing what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6).  God could not even find a “righteous judge” to deliver them any longer; God works through Samson. As the story unfolds it is clear he is “doing whatever is right in his own eyes,” and he seems content with his angry ups and downs, rants, and fulfilling of his own lusts and passions.  He is not aware that his strength is dependent upon God; he is independent, in charge of his own life and way, and quite capable to play the game of life on his own terms.   For Samson however, it all crashes, and not because he had a haircut (as is often told as the secret of his strength).  No, Samson’s hair is the last hair of the Nazarite vow, of one who was totally out of touch with God’s purposes and ways for his life. He was not aware that “the Lord had left him,” nor that God’s presence alone was his strength throughout his entire life.   Samson does appear to get a clue at the climax of the story as he prays for God’s strength once more.

It makes me wonder about our lives.  Are we aware of God’s presence at all?  Can we discern in and through our lives, that much of what we are happy to take credit for, perhaps our successes and strengths are more about God’s presence in our lives.  God’s presence is not necessarily related to how great I am at following his will for my life.  God is up to bigger things in this world than my whims and desires.  His grace for my life is greater than I can ever imagine.

How much of our lives do we attribute to ourselves, like Samson’s declaration, “I will go and set myself free like I’ve done before,” not realizing it was God who was working behind all of that.  How much of our lives are filled with pride in what we have done, accomplished, and succeeded at?  Do we discern the Presence of God in our lives and give thanks and credit where it truly goes?  What would happen in my life if God’s presence back away?

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