After September 11, the media and governmental leaders described what happened as a "terrorist attack on America." This in turn led to talk of war, to taking violent revenge.
But try thinking about those events in terms of Samson's suicide, as recorded in Judges 16:21-30. This passage begins after Delilah betrays Samson to the Philistines, when they cut off his hair and rob Samson of his strength.
There Samson was, chained in the temple of Philistine power, their World Trade Center, their Pentagon, with more than 3,000 people in the building. They were jeering and mocking him, making him perform, treating this once powerful enemy as a contemptible fool.
He was in despair. What came to his mind was ending his life. He would bring down this symbol of his masters, and take with him to death the Philistine politicians and generals and clergy and leaders, regardless of collateral damage.
What was the despair of those educated, trained skyjackers, some of whom were family men? Why did they feel life was over for them?
Like Samson, they called on God in their suicide note for the courage and strength to commit one final act. Why were the World Trade Center and the Pentagon the places to end their lives? What can governments do about people in such anguish, people who want to bring down the houses of their enemies on themselves?
Thinking along the lines of Samson's suicide leads to a different set of rationales and actions.
Samson is one of the Bible's most despicable figures. He's called "judge," someone the Bible says was blessed by God, but I don't see how: he was a murderer, a selfish sexist pig, an unrepentant hooligan of violence and revenge.
The Philistines, his enemies, don't come off any better.
Was God on the side of Samson, as he took out the temple house of the Philistines and killed more than 3,000 persons?
Was God on the side of the 19 skyjackers as they killed more than 3,000?
Was God on the side of the Americans who took out the houses and pentagons of the Taliban, resulting in the deaths of uncounted innocents?
I want out of those Samson/Philistine stories. I want out of this "war on terrorism," "axis of evil," and "indefinite internment" nonsense.
We can have a better vision than this. Why are those Samson stories in the Bible? Is it to remind us how human beings often behave? Is it to show us what the picture looks like when we go down the road of unending, vengeful violence?
So what happened on September 11? If we say, "A terrorist attack on America," then we might feel called to say, "God bless America" as it takes its revenge. If we say, "The suicide of Samson," then we might feel called to seek out those in our world—our neighbors—who feel the contempt of the ruling powers. We might even feel called to struggle with them for signs of hope.
Ken Frank serves as a Global Ministries missionary at the American Collegiate Institute in Izmur, Turkey.