06/08/2016

There are No Strong People (by Jeff Lucas)

I’ve enjoyed almost everything I have read previously by Jeff Lucas, a Christian speaker and writer who grew up in the UK but now works as a pastor in the US. He has a self-deprecating mildly ironic style that I find helpful and encouraging. So over the years I’ve gradually been collecting his books.

I acquired ‘There are no strong people’ about six months ago, and have spent the past couple of weeks reading it, a chapter or two at a time. As is immediately clear, this is a book about the biblical judge Samson. Each section looks at part of his life and the author makes observations about what went wrong. The theme is that even someone as strong and anointed as Samson, best known for his super-human strength, can make serious mistakes and end up destroying their lives.

The typical Sunday School anecdotes of Samson are totally sanitised; most of his life story is 15-rated at least, perhaps 18. From the Scriptural account it’s clear that he found some women irresistible, had a violent temper, and liked to take revenge on perceived hurts. He’s not the kind of leader anyone would naturally follow or like.

However the book starts at the beginning, when Samson’s mother was visited by an angel and told that her son was to be a Nazarite: someone who did not shave his head, took a vow of abstinence from alcohol, and avoided various other things that would make him ‘unclean’. What I had not previously realised was that a Nazarite vow was usually a temporary thing; more significantly, it was his mother who was told about it: not his father, and not Samson himself.

Jeff Lucas writes a great deal about what are essentially quite short passages, suggesting for instance that Samson was quite spoiled as a child, and that he had his parents entirely under his thumb. This could be taken from the Scripture passages, although it’s not stated overtly; he certainly paints a possible picture of this strange man who evidently had a calling of some kind, yet made so many mistakes.

Once I had realised that this was not a devotional book or even a study as such, I was able to build up a picture of Samson in my mind that was clearer than I had previously. It’s not a particularly pleasant image; he comes across as boorish, greedy, immoral and violent. It doesn’t even seem as if he were particularly intelligent, as he was taken in so easily by women.

There are ‘lessons’ throughout the text, outlined in some of the chapter headings: secrets can make us sick; dissatisfaction is likely to lead us into temptation; anger can be inflammable; even the strongest can fail. They make good points although my personality is so far from Samson’s that few of them were relevant to my own situation.

While it’s not a bad book, I found the style a bit annoying; the sentences are quite short, and the layout is strange with some enormous text that looked as if it should be section headings, but was so big that it was disturbing. Moreover, the book lacked Lucas’s usual dry humour and is almost devoid of personal anecdotes. Yet it wasn't a Bible study as such, as much of the commentary was speculation on behalf of the author.

Overall, while it could be useful for some, I thought this was not up to Jeff Lucas's usual standard.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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