Lecture 5 (Week 6): The Spiritual Fog: Ignorance, Complacency, And ApathyRelated Media
In mid-March 2003 I was changing jobs, and my husband and I decided to take a vacation the week between. Gary wanted to drive to Phoenix and watch some Texas Rangers spring training games. I did NOT want to drive, but I agreed on the stipulation that we would also visit the Grand Canyon, which I’d always wanted to see.
After a couple of days in Phoenix, we headed north to Flagstaff and arrived just as it began to snow. By the next morning it was no longer snowing, but our drive to the Grand Canyon included a beautiful mountain highway bordered by gorgeous snow-covered trees for part of the trip. I was so excited to see the spectacular canyon, but all we saw was fog, and the forecast called for it to last two days. Because we needed to leave the next morning to get home, we had no hope of seeing it and left.
My inability to see the Grand Canyon’s beauty didn’t change the fact that it was there. But it vastly affected my experience and enjoyment of it.
That trip came to mind when I thought about our story this week.
Samson lived in a spiritual fog, knowing God was there but ignorant, complacent, and apathetic about God’s purposes for him. As a result he missed a connection to and appreciation of God’s greatness.
Ignorance. Complacency. Apathy. That’s what causes the fog.
When believers are ignorant, complacent or apathetic about God’s character, calling and purposes, they miss the majesty of his handiwork.
Samson’s story reveals what a spiritual fog looks like. We’ll look at the ignorance, complacency, and apathy in Israel, in Samson’s parents and in Samson. Finally we’ll consider our own spiritual fogs.
First, we look at Israel in general and Samson’s parents as representative of Israel.
Turn to Judges 13 verse 1: “And then the People of Israel were back at it again, doing what was evil in God's sight. God put them under the domination of the Philistines for forty years,” (MSG). And the next verse begins Samson’s story.
Where’s the cycle we’ve seen over and over in Judges? All this text tells us is that Israel did evil and God put them under Philistine domination for 40 years. This time they didn’t cry out as a group, and they definitely didn’t repent.
They were so complacent about the status quo and so apathetic about God’s desire for his people to flourish in their own land that they weren’t even praying for deliverance from the Philistines’ domination.
Despite that fact, God decided to send a deliverer anyway—for his purposes and in his grace. And that deliverer was Samson.
His story begins when the Angel of the LORD appeared to his nameless mother announcing his coming. I believe that the Angel of the Lord here was God himself, but he was definitely God’s messenger who communicated God’s word to first the wife and then both wife and husband. And yet, they were slow to discern who he was.
In contrast to most of the Bible stories where God gives an infertile woman a child, there’s no record that either she or her husband Manoah prayed to Yahweh for a child. God simply acted in grace, perhaps indicating they were ignorant of his power.
After her conversation with the angel of the LORD, she miscommunicated the message to Manoah.
Look at it in Judges 13:3-7:
And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”
First, the woman added to the angel’s words when she said that the child would be a Nazirite from conception to his death, while the messenger said nothing about it lasting until he died. Second, she failed to tell her husband Samson’s purpose, which the angel identified as to begin to save Israel from the Philistines’ dominion, suggesting her apathy about it.
Manoah also lived in a spiritual fog. He wouldn’t accept God’s message when it came through his wife and seemed skeptical when he met the messenger. He asked for a sign, much as Gideon did. Although God graciously gave it, the Angel provided no new information to Manoah.
Dr. Lawson Younger says that Manoah’s interaction with the Angel involved attempts to manipulate him. In that day feeding someone or knowing a heavenly being’s name were commonly believed to force them to comply with your requests. Manoah wanted power over the angel and was ignorant of the character of Yahweh, who cannot be manipulated.
Then we have further evidence of the wife’s spiritual fog when she names her son “Little Sun,” or Sunny with a U. The Hebrew word used here for “sun” is the same word for the name of a Caananite deity. It’s possible that the name was meant to suggest a quality of the sun, but if so, she was apathetic about how it might be misinterpreted. She seems ignorant of Yahweh’s preeminence.
I saw one more evidence of Israel’s lack of spiritual discernment in Judges 15:9-13. This was the point in the story where the Philistines attacked the tribe of Judah in order to get to Samson and repay him over the loss of their wheat harvest and the deaths of those who burned his wife and her father. But the group of 3,000 Judeans sided with the Philistines instead of Samson. Although God had given his people this land, they were complacent about regaining power over it. They were ignorant that the Philistines were the real enemy and turned on Samson whom they never recognized as God’s deliverer.
Ignorant. Complacent. Apathetic. We see a spiritual fog in Samson’s parents and all of Israel. Now let’s look at Samson.
Although Samson knew that God had gifted him, he seems clueless about God’s purpose for his life. I’d love to know if his mother ever told him that his calling was delivering Israel from the Philistines. She didn’t mention it to Manoah, and I just wonder if she ever told Samson.
If he did know God’s purpose, his actions certainly weren’t motivated by it but by his lusts. We see that in his pursuit of a Philistine wife, his tryst with the prostitute, and his affair with Delilah. He acts as an independent agent doing what seems right in his own eyes, a theme of Judges. If he knew his purpose, he was complacent and never deliberately sought to do God’s business.
Samson’s eventual willingness to reveal the source of his strength to Delilah showed his complacency about his gift. He showed more concern about Delilah’s happiness than God’s purpose for him. Of course the source of his strength wasn’t the hair itself; it was God’s Spirit working through him as God’s chosen vessel, a Nazarite. But uncut hair was a condition of his being set apart for God’s work, as his mother was told.
Even Samson’s prayers weren’t about God’s work but were self-focused. The Bible records only two prayers. Let’s look at them.
The first is in Judges 15:18-19. The occasion followed his escape from the Philistines after he was handed over to them by the Judeans.
And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived.
Clearly Samson recognized that God had given him the victory but he seemed to pray because of his own needs not to praise God. But graciously met his need.
Samson’s second prayer is Judges 16:28-30:
Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “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.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.
Samson’s motive for this prayer was revenge, not fulfilling God’s calling on his life. Throughout Samson’s life, there’s no indication that he intentionally followed God’s purpose. He was apathetic about the things of God and instead focused on himself. God worked his purpose despite Samson’s ignorance, complacency and apathy. It’s amazing to read Samson’s name listed in Hebrews 12, the hall of faith. But his prayers were directed to Yahweh and he recognized that God was his strength. So despite his ignorance, complacency and apathy about God’s purposes and plans, he acted by faith.
And that’s encouraging to me as I think of how much I’m focused on me and not God. God is greater than we are. He isn’t limited by our ignorance, complacency, or apathy and uses us despite us. But how much more would God use us if we were knowledgable about his character, zealous to impact our spheres of influence, and engaged in his purpose and plans?
So that brings us to self-examination in light of what we’ve seen in Israel, Samson’s parents and Samson himself. Are we living in a spiritual fog because of our ignorance, complacency or apathy?
Question 1: Do you know your God-given gifts?
Samson did know, but do we?
Every person on earth is given natural gifts from birth—abilities that make us unique. Intellectual and physical abilities, and personalities. God has gifted us uniquely according to his purposes.
But when we follow Christ, we’re also given spiritual gifts purposed for the church and its growth, as Ephesians 4 tells us. Being unaware of them puts us in a spiritual fog because we’re designed to focus our service in the area of our giftedness where God’s Spirit works through us to a special degree.
I grew up in the church but had never heard of spiritual gifts until I was 31 and our Sunday school class studied 1 Corinthians. I can look back and see how I floundered serving God because I was ignorant. At one point I organized the young women’s group at my church to go to nursing homes to visit. But when I went myself, I had no clue how to help or encourage the woman I visited, so I felt like a failure. When I later learned about the gifts, I realized that I had used my gift of leadership to rally and organize the whole group of women. I just didn’t have the gift of mercy. God designed me to serve in a different way.
Question 2: Do you know God’s purposes/calling on your life?
All Christians have the same big purposes. We’re to love God with our entire being. Our greatest purpose is to walk with him. But we’re also called to love others as ourselves and live out our faith, telling and showing others who Jesus is and what he’s done for them.
But God has divided up his work and given each of us a particular calling that fits our gifting. I could use lots of you as examples. I think of Linda who has the gift of exhortation. Don’t you always feel encouraged and challenged when you’re around her? But Linda doesn’t just do that as she talks to friends, but she deliberately uses her gifts in our church and with refugees. I also think of Hendra who uses her gifts of helps and administration to work behind the scenes at this church in so many ways. She, like Linda, deliberately seeks roles where she can fulfill God’s purposes. Both women are building God’s kingdom but in different ways with unique gifts.
Question 3: Are you deliberately building up the church and the kingdom of God by using your gifts for his purpose?
The day will come when we stand before God and give an account of how we’ve used our gifts for his kingdom.
You can look it up later but in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul talks about the judgment seat of Christ where we receive what we’re due for what we’ve done on earth. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 he describes the kingdom work he’s done on earth as a teacher in Corinth. We’re only going to read vv. 12-15:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Paul uses the metaphor of a building for the church. But what I want us to see is that there is a day coming when the work we do, not the results which are God’s (that’s in v. 7), but the work itself will be judged. We aren’t talking about sins which are paid for, but our works. Paul pictures two kinds of works: the gold, silver and precious stone which last through fire and the wood, hay, and stubble which don’t. We can’t grow or make gold, silver and gemstones, but our own efforts are involved in wood, hay, and stubble. It seems that our rewards come when we’re dependent on God and use what he has given us in the way of spiritual gifts and not our own natural efforts or for our own purposes.
God will work among his people regardless, but only he knows what would have been if we had pursued wholeheartedly his purposes and calling. Let’s not be ignorant, complacent or apathetic about God’s purposes and gifts as Samson was.
Let’s push away the fog and begin living with understanding, a desire to affect our world or even one person for the better, and zeal for God’s kingdom.