Samson is superman. He's Superman in the sense meant by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was German so the word he used was Übermensch, meaning Overman or Superman. Nietzsche’s basic claim was that God was dead and it was time for humanity to take it to the next level. To outdo itself.
Nietzsche wasn’t unappreciative of God or religion, in fact he felt that belief in God had done a lot of good. This was how humanity reached for the stars. But now that civilization was coming of age religion had reached the end of its usefulness. The death of God would be good for us. Instead of leaning on religion we should put faith in the human race and reach for our real potential. By force of will we could be Super-humanity. Our dreams of God it will only hold us back.
I suspect this idea lies behind the popularity of superhero stories these days to some degree—telling us more about our fundamental beliefs than we’d like to admit. Our superhero stories sustain the myth that we can be whatever you set our minds to be. For Nietzsche the key was the human will. Accepting the death of God might hurt for a while, but if we could break the shackles of faith in God and put faith in the power of self-belief—we could outdo ourselves.
Of course, there are other interpretations of the power of the human will. A philosopher who touched on this was Arthur Schopenhauer. He also thought that human willpower was a powerful thing, but he thought that the will of man was its kryptonite, so to speak. He thought that human will was an evil power that would take us down at the peak of our desire. Both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer talked about the power of the human will, one thinking it the key to greatness, the other thinking it our ultimate demise.
To be honest I think he tells both. Yes, cut loose from the God who would hold us back from building our Babel Towers, cut loose from the God who would hold Samson back from the donkey’s jawbone, we humans are capable of immense and incredible things!
"If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps (and if you are cut from the right cloth), you too can find the success of a self-made man."
"If our intentions are right we can build a relatively benevolent global empire on the strength of our goodwill."
Nietzsche was partly right. But history has shown: so was Schopenhauer. And Samson tells the story that Superman is an overreach on our part: our will to power brings self-destruction. We’re still telling Samson’s story to this day. He’s a mirror for our broken souls; a reflection of our disordered world.
The Judges are a mirror held up to see our fickle state. We’re fickle because we swing on the pendulum between optimism and pessimism; between Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, between dreams and despair. And the pendulum swings on the myth of Superman---a myth Jesus came to destroy.
You wouldn’t know it from those Jesus films with the blue-eyed hunk of a carpenter’s son who goes to the cross like William Wallace, but the Jesus given us in the gospels is one who steps into the shoes of Samson at the end of his rope and at Israel’s bottom line, and who dies in our place to put to death our myths of the self-made man.
Jesus is not self-made but self-giving. Of all the people to live a life of total submission to the strength of God, you wouldn’t think it would be the Son of God himself, but he does. At every step Jesus lives from the love of the Father, drawing strength each day rather than relying on himself. And Jesus gives himself to the people around him too. He’s not self-made but self-giving---giving himself to us even to the point that he lets us take him down.
|"God's Hand is in the World" by Yehuda Amichai|
(thanks Dave McGregor for showing this to me)
And if you’ve never stared into the depths of it you’ve likely not taken seriously the words of Paul, who said: “If Christ is not raised our faith is futile and we are dead in our sins.” If Christ is not raised then Samson’s end is our end too.
No matter how many sappy-ending superhero movies you watch it doesn’t change the fact that, left to ourselves, Samson’s end is our end too.
But Paul wasn’t done, and neither is Scripture. There’s a long epilogue to the story of Samson and in a very real sense we’re still involved in its writing. Gratefully, the conclusion has already been written for us in Christ, as is spelled out for us by Paul:
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins and all of the dead are lost. And if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we of all people should be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep..."