1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 53

“The first thing you must know, young Simon, is that all men, even the greatest of heroes, have flaws. Only our Savior is without flaw or imperfection. Even the greatest heroes of the Bible have flaws. Why, King David . . .” Pastor Gruber stopped for a moment. “But then, you are asking about Samson, not David.” He coughed for a moment, a deep wet sound. “Let us just say that Samson was a good example of a flawed hero.”

          “But he was so strong, and so great, and so mighty,” Simon protested.

“The ancient Greeks tell us that the greater the hero, the deeper his flaws, the worst of which was arrogant pride, what they called hubris.” The old man raised a hand. “And certainly that seems to be true of Samson. I have often thought that Samson was not a very smart man, myself.”

Simon was stunned. He’d come to the church looking for answers, only to find that the pastor had some of the same thoughts he had. That left his mind reeling for a moment. “But Delilah…” he finally said.

“Ah, the harlot Delilah,” Pastor Gruber replied with a small smile. “How old are you, lad?”

“Twelve, I think.”

“Have you started looking at girls yet?”

Simon sat back, startled and embarrassed. It was strange to him. Girls caught his eye recently in a way they never had before. Not that any would look at him, not once they saw his arm.

“Never mind,” the pastor chuckled before Simon could respond. “If you have not yet, you will soon.”

The old man sobered. “The attraction of a man for a woman is a gift from God, but it is also one of Satan’s greatest temptations. For some men, women are a weakness. They cannot stay away from them, especially if they are not their own wives. Samson was that way, if I read the scriptures correctly.” He sighed. “A man who has a weakness for women is disarmed when he meets one who is a subtle schemer and conniver like Delilah.”

“So why didn’t God tell Samson to leave her alone?”

“But he did, Simon. Samson was what they called a Nazirite, and he had rules that he was supposed to live by.” Pastor Gruber clicked his tongue. “He knew what God wanted from him. But Samson was a very proud man, so he did what he wanted.”

“Why didn’t God stop Samson from meeting Delilah?”

“You will have to ask God that question some day, young Simon, for I have no answer.” The pastor chuckled again. “In fact, I have my own list of questions. But consider Samson’s end.” He closed his eyes and quoted from memory.

 “And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”

“What do you mean?” Simon asked.

“At the end,” Pastor Gruber mused, “after he had failed, Samson remembered what God had called him to do. He called out to God, and God rewarded him for it.”

“Rewarded? Being killed is a reward?” Simon’s questions were impassioned.

“All men die, Simon.” The old pastor pointed out the door of the church. “Kings die, merchants die, soldiers and generals die, doctors and lawyers and farmers and bakers all die. Even old pastors die.” He laid a hand on his own chest. “No one escapes death, not even our Savior. Cheating death is never within our grasp, as much as some people try to do it.” He lowered his hand. “No, lad, what matters is how you die. Sometimes that matters even more than how you live. That was certainly so in Samson’s case. ‘So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.’ Despite his arrogant pride, it is not a bad epitaph for a hero who died defending his people.”

Simon sat back, slumped. “I . . . I don’t know. I never thought of it that way. It just seemed so . . . so stupid, the way things happened.”

Pastor Gruber gave his gentle smile. “But scripture says that the ways of the Lord are foolishness to men.”

They sat in silence together for some time. The old pastor seemed to know when to quit talking, letting the boy’s mind work through everything that had been given him. At length, Simon straightened.

“I need to think about this.” He faced Pastor Gruber. “Can I come back and talk with you again?”

Again the gentle smile bloomed in the middle of the white whiskers. “Of course, young Simon. I am here most days. The senior pastors don’t let me preach much these days . . . my voice isn’t what it used to be, I’m afraid, and I am a bit absent-minded at times. But they do not mind my spending time here where I can be a hand and a voice for those poor souls in this part of the city. And if there are weddings or such scheduled, we will find a quiet corner, you and I.”

Simon stood and awkwardly bobbed his head. “Thank you, Pastor Gruber. I think you have helped me.”

“The Lord helped you, lad. I am just an old man waiting for my days to end.”

“Well, thank you anyway.” Simon walked to the doorway of the church, then turned to look back. Pastor Gruber stood in another beam of light from a window and raised a hand in farewell. Simon waved back, then plunged back into the streets of Magdeburg.