Snakes, Fruit and Nudity - a Literal Look at the Dangly Bits of Eden
I was watching an animated video recently about the creation story and 'The Fall'. It has really had me thinking about how literally we take some things in the Bible and what lessons we could learn from the messages it holds if we could view them from different angles from time to time. I had always been taught that the story of Adam and Eve was a factual account and accepted it as such wholeheartedly. But taking this perspective into my recent viewing of this particular video had me considering some things. Do we really believe that there was, at one point in history and then in no other, a talking snake? It seems like a stretch of logic to believe that God created a talking creature and then failed to give it the reproductive ability to pass on this talent to its offspring. There is one occurrence of God actually giving a voice to Balaam's donkey in a one-time incident in Numbers chapter 22, but there is hardly any correlation between these stories. In Numbers, God is giving Balaam a warning that he has already failed to heed, whereas in Genesis the snake is given voice in order to entice sin. Serpent sinner, serpent Saviour? Most Christians are probably right to reject this line of thinking. If this was the case, it would mean that the serpent's heart had already turned away from God and was enticing man to do the same. As Jesus preaches in Matthew chapter 5, to even think something evil in your heart is to have sinned. In Matthew chapter 18 verses 6 – 9, Jesus gives grave warnings for those who would cause others to sin. On both counts the snake would be guilty of sin, well before any action from mankind. We should rightly reject the notion that sin entered creation through a snake, for to do so would have serious implications on the nature of Jesus. Scripture points to mankind's sin as the origin of death and hence the need for Jesus to come in the form of a man to redeem not only humanity but the entirety of creation. So to believe that it was an actual snake that spoke to Adam and Eve would be to acknowledge that sin did not enter the world through humanity but through an animal. We would need then to look for the Christ in a reptilian form to transform this fallen world.
...But that's just crazy, right?
What about Satan? I find it interesting then that we are so quick to read Satan into these passages. Surely the same logic applies? If it is indeed the devil hiding his true form and deceiving the man and woman, then sin has already entered God's creation through fallen angels? Would we not then need an angelic saviour instead of a human incarnation? It is telling that the Jewish writers and readers never saw an angelic Satan as being involved in this pivotal event in human history. The word translated as 'satan' does not appear anywhere in Genesis at all. In fact the word satan is first used in the account of Balaam and his donkey, in relation to God sending an angel as an adversary (satan) against him. This adversary is very different to the one we often look for in Genesis as it comes against a man who set out to curse Israel. So we see that the first mention of a satan comes much later, as a being who opposes evil and not enticing it. Literally confused? Where then does this leave us? If we choose to see that neither of these options are truly viable, then what does the reference to the snake mean? Is it possible that this account is not a wholly historical one, but could also be a story designed to show us something more? Could the snake be a metaphor for the choices we all must make everyday, an external representation of the internal potential we all have for life or destruction? Would it actually be more logical to believe that sin originated with humanity and thus the need for God to come as a man in order to save it? What could it all mean? To accept this idea has created some serious and interesting tension in my life. No longer can I blame God, the devil, or my wife as Adam did for my choices and sin. I can no longer scapegoat anyone else for creating trouble in my life. “The devil made me do it”, and, “being attacked by the enemy”, have been shown for the lies that they are. This has given me greater acceptance of the responsibility for my sin and I've begun to see my issues as MY issues. If I have a problem with someone, it's because of some desire in me wanting to express itself, not because of anything they might have done. How I perceive the issue IS the issue. My troubles are no longer anyone else's fault, nor am I at the mercy of an enemy with the power to subject me to all kinds of torments and keep me bound to all kinds of guilt and shame. I am finally able to take control of this guilt and shame off of the enemy and hand it all over to Jesus, letting it go in return for his redemptive work and joy in my life. I can now be free from guilt and shame. I can stop eating from the Tree of Knowledge and eat instead from the Tree of Life. Whatever else we believe about sin and Satan, there is great freedom in rejecting the system of scapegoating and palming off responsibility for the cause of our sin onto him. If the accuser's only power is in the belief we give to the accusation, why should we waste any more time in entertaining it?
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
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