The difference between faith and fanaticism (1 Samuel 14)

My heart pounded as my eyes pored over the computer screen. I clicked link after link. I scrolled through page after page. I soaked everything up like a sponge.

The website was called “Sisters in Skirts”. It was all about how God wanted women to only wear skirts, and long, ankle-length skirts at that.

And I’ll be honest, it was convincing me! I clicked through the image examples of true “modest dress”, imagining myself making a statement by buying long denim skirts, throwing away my jeans, and switching out my tankini for a modest two-piece bathing suit with a knee-length skirt attached.

It felt good. It felt right. It felt like the dawn of true, all consuming faith in God.

But was it?

A tale of two men

King Saul was also searching for something that felt good and right and faithful. Maybe it was months, maybe it was years after Samuel’s shocking message that God had rejected Saul as king of Israel, but the pain was still fresh.

To numb the pain, Saul buried himself in work. Thankfully, Philistine occupation kept him quite busy. According to the previous chapter, the Philistines had taken control of all of the Israelite blacksmiths and metal-workers, raising the price of weapons so high that they were almost impossible to purchase.

But while Saul is thinking of a way to thwart Israel’s oppressors, someone new steps in. His son, Jonathan.

Prince Jonathan has an idea. He approaches the Philistine outpost and challenges them to a fight.

He has no army. He has no weapons. But he has asked God for a sign. If the Philistines say “Wait there for us” in response to his challenge, he’ll retreat. If they say “Come up to us”, he’ll attack.

The response comes. “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson!”

Jonathan attacks. And he wins.

The Philistines are thrown into a frenzy sent by God (verse 15). It’s the perfect time to attack. And attack Saul does – but with a twist.

“Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!”

verse 24

It’s a decree that Saul hopes will show that he trusts God more than he trusts the brawn of his soldiers.

Unfortunately, all this decree really does is leave his army exhausted and the enemy only partly defeated.

When evening comes and Saul has still not yet avenged himself on his enemies, he is only a little dismayed. He lets his army eat and then finally decides to ask God for guidance. Should he go after the Philistines and destroy them completely?

But God doesn’t answer him.

In a panic, Saul assumes that someone in his army has sinned and that’s why God isn’t answering them. When he finds out that Jonathan violated the vow not to eat until evening, he convinces himself that this is why God is not answering him.

His solution? “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.” (verse 44)

Thankfully, the Israelite army talks King Saul down from his insane spiral. They all go home. The Philistines get away.

Praise God?

Faithful vs. Fanatic

Both Jonathan and Saul took bold steps. Both Jonathan and Saul trusted God to do something big. Both Jonathan and Saul stepped out in what they called faith.

But how they went about it was completely different.

Jonathan looked around at the oppression of God’s people. He believed in God’s words when He said He would protect and strengthen the Israelites. He asked God for help. He waited on God’s reply. And then when God said yes, he acted, having faith that God would be his strength.

Saul felt insecure in his role as king. He had heard God’s words when He said that He had rejected Saul as king, but he didn’t want to listen. He demanded God work a miracle for him. And when God didn’t answer the way he wanted, he condemned the person he was supposed to love the most, rather than admit he was wrong.

Jonathan had faith in God. Saul was a fanatic doing his best imitation of faith.

And it’s easy to compare and contrast the two from our vantage point. But the question is, which one are you? Which one am I?

“Do you want to obey or do you want to feel good?”

It’s probably no surprise to you that I am not a sister in skirts today. The website’s spell was broken once my mom pointed out to me its lack of Biblical evidence.

But the funny thing was that I was disappointed. I wished that pants really were sinful. I wanted a way to prove to others that I was faithful and obedient, able to sacrifice anything for God.

I wanted to feel good about myself.

And that is the difference between faith and fanaticism.

All of us, whether we are liberal or conservative, want to feel like good Christians. We want to feel like we’re doing okay. A lot of us even want to feel like we’re doing better than others.

But that’s not what following God is about. It’s not about soothing our guilt or excusing our flaws. It’s not about being model Christians or success stories.

It’s about a Love so strong that it condescended itself and sacrificed itself on a cross to save me and you from endless suffering and absolute death. It’s about believing that Love is real. It’s about accepting that Love. It’s about making that Lover the authority over our lives.

It’s about Jesus and not ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but fanaticism is exhausting.

Faith on the other hand? It will save our lives.

What do you think? What is the difference between faith and fanaticism?

4 thoughts on “The difference between faith and fanaticism (1 Samuel 14)

  1. I really like how you contrasted the actions of Saul and Jonathan, I didn’t think of this difference before. How Jonathan waited for God and acted from faith while Saul’s actions were from his insecurity and he wanted to make God do what he wanted.

    When I first became a believer I’ve read somewhere that many people who convert go back to their old ways within a few years and I didn’t want that to be me. And I genuinely wanted to obey God. But as a new believer I didn’t know the Bible well yet and I came across a lot of teachings that seemed biblical but now I know they were not. I also had a time when I believed I should only wear skirts or dresses, and a head covering. I had this fear that if I don’t do everything perfectly God will not love me anymore. And I was proud and wanted to show I am good.

    Obedience is very important and our faith should be seen from our actions but as you also said it should be the result of our love and not the result of fear or wanting to feel good or pride.

    It seems like the most difficult thing to give up is control. Well, the illusion of control because we are never actually in control. You can make a lot of sacrifice and seem so devoted yet have no faith at all and not trust in God and keep trying to control your life. Which as you said is exhausting and never gives you peace.

    That’s why it’s important to focus on the gospel and know the word or God and trust in that instead of trying to make Him do what you want Him to do.

    Thanks for sharing.

    God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing! You make so many good points! One thing you bring out is that a lot of times these more fanatical or non-biblical ideas and beliefs come from a genuine desire to do what’s right and to stick really close to God. But it’s so easy for us as humans to get things twisted because we don’t know everything, we’re not perfect. That’s why we need to consistently stay connected to God via prayer and the Bible so He can guide us to truth. And that’s what love does; it keeps us close to God.

      And you make such a good point about control. I think that’s one of the biggest struggles for us as followers of God – acknowledging that He is in control and letting go of our own.

      I really appreciate your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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