The problem is the talking snake

The problem is the talking snake

“The problem is the talking snake.” I’m not sure I’ve heard these exact words but I’ve talked to people who, after reading through Genesis chapter 3, say that they have a hard time believing it because there is a talking snake. It’s probably accounts like this that lead some people to think that being a Christian almost requires you to stop thinking when you step into church. “Out there” they say, “In the real world you are governed by reason and science. In here we talk about fairy tales as if they really happened.”

I want to address this claim head on as we get started looking at this account. The next time you’re talking to someone about Genesis chapter 3 or any of the miracles of the Bible I want you to consider this: most people deny that a snake can talk or that miracles can happen because they haven’t seen a miracle themselves. Don’t hold it against them. They may even say something like, “Doesn’t science disprove this stuff?” No one wants to be on the wrong side of science. But you have to remember what science can and cannot do. Think of science as a lane on a road. In the lane of science is the natural world… all the things that can be observed, tested and proven through experimentation. But the scientific method has no way to deal with the supernatural or miraculous. By definition, miracles or supernatural happenings are outside of what is natural and so they are outside the lane of science. You cannot create an experiment to test something that is outside of its lane…like talking snakes or dead people rising. This doesn’t mean that science is deficient. It just means that those things that are outside the natural order of things cannot be proven or disproved by it. Science can only conclude that in nature snakes don’t talk. But that doesn’t mean that if God, or in this case, the devil, intervened in nature it could not happen.  

So why do we believe in anything that is supernatural? First ask yourself why you believe anything? Isn’t it because you have either experienced or observed it yourself or because you heard it from a trustworthy source? So if we have not seen snakes talking ourselves and there are no YouTube videos where snakes talk then the next question is this: is the Bible a reliable source? Is it a trustworthy witness? This is a bigger question and one we don’t have time to deal with completely but the short answer is that we say “yes” because Jesus himself affirmed the book of Genesis as history and he showed he is trustworthy by his own resurrection from the dead which was recorded in history by reliable witnesses. It’s only logical to believe that what Jesus said and affirmed is true, even if it goes against the natural order of things. 

So don’t let the fact that there is talking snake bother you. At the same time, it is true; the problem in Genesis chapter 3 is the talking snake because the Bible teaches that through his temptation sin and death entered the world.

Even people who don’t believe a word of the Bible have to admit there is death and that there is good and evil in this world. They may not be able to explain why, but they can’t deny evil and death exist. But the Bible tells us: the snake is the problem; not a problem for our intellect but a problem for our morality and mortality. Look at Genesis chapter 3 and see what the devil was up to. God is the President, congress and Supreme Court all in one. He is the ultimate law maker, enforcer and judge. In fact, if there were no God then there could be no objective morality; no standard of good and evil that applies to everyone. But in the beginning God issued just one command: that Adam and Eve not eat from Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. By obeying this command the first people could show their love to God.

But enter the serpent, the devil, whose name means “tempter.” He wastes no time to challenge what God had said. His one objective was to cause Adam and Eve to sin by breaking the one rule God had given.

The devil began by raising doubt in Eve’s mind. “Did God really say…?” Of course God had said, but by raising the question he opens room for doubt. The next part of his temptation was to openly contradict God’s Word, “You will not surely die.” And then he goes one step further by bringing into question God’s goodness. The devil makes it appear that God was withholding good. “When you eat of it you will be like God knowing good and evil.”

His strategy worked and soon Adam and Eve had brought evil and death into God’s good creation. And notice that it didn’t take them long to be filled with shame, to hide, to make excuses and pass the blame. Who hasn’t experienced this even this week? The shame of falling into a sin that you told yourself you wouldn’t do again. The foolish attempts to hide that sin from others as if God were unaware. The poor excuses we made up or our expertise in blaming others. “My parents, my brother, my sister, they’re the problem.” “My husband, my wife, they’re the reason our marriage is not what it once was. Not me.”

You see how the problem is still the talking snake. Though now he hides himself and has partners in our own sinful flesh that was corrupted by sin; partners this world with all of its temptations to chase after money, or health, or security, or fame, power, success, popularity.

The next time you hear as excuse for your sin come out of your mouth or appear in your mind, remember the snake. The problem is the talking snake whose lies still keep us from admitting our own sin. For as long as we blame others; as long as we hide or dismiss or justify our sins, we are speaking the very language of the serpent and lying to ourselves about our sin and the punishment we deserve.

But the story of the whole Bible is this: God does not want sinners to die. He wants them to turn to him and live. See how God responded to Adam and Eve even with all their excuses and evasions. He didn’t lecture them. Neither did he say, “It’s OK this time…but if you do it again….” No, they would experience the consequences of their rebellion. Every day we feel the effects of living in a world that was corrupted by sin: coronavirus, injustices, threats of war and violence, addictions, arrogance, broken families, putting the blame on everyone but yourself. And all of this leads up to death.

When you feel the effects of sin in your life let them serve as a reminder not to put your hope in yourself. Don’t trust yourself to fix it. You can’t even fully rely on your intellect, as smart as you think you are! For this too was corrupted by sin. Instead, in humility acknowledge that God is God and his Word is true.

Then, and only then are you ready to hear the promise God made to Adam and Eve in their darkest moment. That talking snake…yes, he’s the problem but he wouldn’t win.  God also had something to say. He said that the seed of the woman, a child born from a woman would take a stand against the devil and would crush the talking snake’s head; though it was to come through suffering himself.

Now fast forward to Matthew chapter 4 and watch Jesus go toe-to toe with the devil for 40 days in the desert. We may have questions about what Jesus did for 40 days but there is no question that Jesus walked off the field victorious. And he didn’t do it so that we would know how to defeat the devil. Our problem is not a lack of information. It is a lack of ability. We don’t need an instructor, we need a stand-in, a substitute; One who could take the battle field in our place and win. That’s what Jesus was doing.

Yet the final head crushing wouldn’t come until Jesus himself would take on the punishment of the sins of this world. There, on the cross, he made the devil the liar he is. Now when Satan accuses we need only point to Jesus and say, “Your accusations are empty. I am sinless because Jesus has taken my sins away. I am righteous because he has covered me with his perfect life. Talking snake, be quiet!”

I wonder if we really grasp how powerful this is. If sin brought death and all that comes with it into this world, then Jesus brings life and all that comes with it to those who believe in him. What a difference this makes. We can appreciate God’s creation and the advances in science without turning them into our gods. We can have peace in a world where it seems like everyone is shouting and telling us to be afraid.

It’s good to be a Christian. Yes, we believe that a snake once talked, but more importantly we believe that Jesus has the final word and that word is life for all who believe in him.