Truth That Sings 6: The Snake Who Made God Boring

One of my favorite passages of Christian prose comes from Dorothy Sayers, a friend and contemporary of C.S. Lewis. In her essay, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged” she writes the following about the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

“If this is dull, then what, in heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very effectively pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him ‘meek and mild’, and recommended Him as a fitting house pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand.”

On the fascinating reality of God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, she adds:

“Now, we may call this doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed.”

Adam and Eve found themselves in a dynamic story of abundance and endless fascination. I won’t say Eden was “perfect” because the Bible never uses the word “perfect.” I won’t say Adam and Eve were perfect either, because Genesis 3 proves they were not. The word “perfect” evokes a static state of fulfillment. Yet God’s creation is dynamic, vibrant, growing and ongoing. God didn’t put Adam and Eve there to lounge around and drink margaritas either, He put them to work. They were called to be co-collaborators with God in Eden. They were told to “be fruitful”, “multiply”, “subdue the earth” and “rule.” This doesn’t sound like God had an endless vacation in mind; but good, meaningful work. Helping to bring order to the chaos in creation. Words like “subdue” and “rule” have connotations of ordering, so the implication is that creation itself was created to be tended to by un-fallen humanity. That’s why I don’t use the word “perfect” but simply say it was “good.” I want to stay true to the original divine intent for humans to live meaningful lives in creation as collaborators with the Creator.

They were however, innocent; in every way we use the word. They hadn’t been exposed to evil of any kind, until a third character slithered into the story. The text calls it a “serpent” but then it later suggests that it had legs at this point and that crawling on its belly was a curse given later, so perhaps this being was a shimmering, splendorous creature who wooed the humans with the appearance of magnificence. Later in the Biblical record “that old serpent” is revealed to be Satan, a fallen angelic being, so any nonsense about “a talking snake” that keeps people from taking this story seriously is irrelevant. This was a fallen, prideful spiritual being taking on the guise of an animal of some kind, so it’s not surprising that it should talk or look beautiful to help further the flattering deception. The serpent has a conversation with Eve, and during the course of the conversation, the creature manages to makes itself look interesting and God look stodgy and dull by comparison. The serpent presents himself as enlightened. He claims to “see” things as they are. And this “God” person is a silly old tyrant who creates free beings but needs to control them with brute force. He bullies His creation around by giving arbitrary commands and restricting perfectly good things. Like – this fruit, for example! Take it. Taking it will give you the power; put the ball in His court. You and He will be on equal footing and you will have access to everything that’s good for you. You can’t trust Him to do what’s good for you; He has His own fear and anger issues to work out. Take this fruit and take command of your own destiny!

The serpent must have been persuasive in its slanderous propaganda, because Eve ate the forbidden fruit, then Adam followed suit. And instead of experiencing a swell of empowering euphoria, they found themselves naked in the worst sense of the word; exposed, vulnerable and diminished. They hid from God and from each other. The delusions of grandeur that enabled them to pluck the forbidden fruit had evaporated and they became fearful and panicky. They realized that the serpent had lied about the effects of the fruit but the serpent’s venom went deep. They held onto the serpent’s portrait of a petty tyrant God and hid from that frightening specter, who only existed in their deluded minds.

The true God sought them out, going through the garden calling to them. What does this tell us about God? Volumes! If God suddenly ceased to love His creation, the Bible would end in the third chapter of Genesis. But it doesn’t. The thousands of pages that come after are the story of the God Who Seeks Us Out. He is revealed as the God who shatters our idols (our false conceptions of Him) and invites us back into intimate fellowship with Him. That is the God who exists and is revealed in the Bible. Yet with the serpent-venom coursing through our veins and the idolatrous concepts of God we still cling to, we can still cherry-pick certain Bible verses and make God seem like a boring old tyrant, just as the serpent took God’s original word to man and twisted it to make Him boring. But if you read up on Jesus as revealed in the gospels, you will never fall for it. Jesus, who is called “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1, was killed by “good religious folk” who didn’t want their serpent-borne conception of God challenged. The serpent’s lie of a boring God has infected our history and helped create something called “religion.” The actual word “religion” simply means “re-connection” so the word itself is not negative, but the soul-smothering institutions and herd mentalities that “religion” fosters is the direct result of the serpent-venom that lingers in the darkened heart of man, and the thousands of boring gods they are erected to serve. Thankfully, the Bible gives us the one true God, uncreated by human imagination, and He refuses to shut up and be boring.

From here on, the drama of the Biblical story is rife with hope, despair, exciting battles, last-minute escapes, heroes, villains, joy, sorrow, and at the last minute, when all seems lost – the only legitimate “Deus Ex Machina” plot-twist that brings us the most fascinating and influential human in the history of…well, history. Like Mrs. Sayers says, we can call it true or rubbish, but we cannot call it dull. If we have made it dull by infusing this story with our own tedious and idolatrous conceptions, we must repent and tell the real story. I’ll end with her stunning words:

“Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious – others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but what is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honor by watering down His personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ. It is the dogma that is the drama – not beautiful phases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death – but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but it least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.”

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~ by shardsofeternity on July 11, 2011.

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