I recently read a disturbing article (pictures here) about current day snake-handlers. My discomfort wasn’t due to the macabre descriptions of serpents and slain in the Spirit congregants writhing together in spiritual fervor. In fact, I was more amused than perturbed by much of what I read (even though I could not help but be saddened by the waste of multiple snake-handling deaths). After all, few people can resist a wry smile when reading observations as profound as “A gentle handler who doesn’t make fast motions near a snake’s head is unlikely to get bitten, but dancing with a snake or handling a snake and fire at the same time is a different matter. ‘That’s a little more risky — it’s more likely that they’ll get bit,’ he said.”
What I found disturbing was the potential parallels between the snake handlers the rest of Western Evangelicalism.
They are, after all, simply living in light of their literal biblical hermeneutic (depending on one’s view of the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 and the precise manner of applying 16:18). Unperturbed by the doubts of society, they simply speak of joy in the testing of their faith. While acknowledging that unbelievers may never understand, they speak of the powerful presence of God, the nearness of the experience, the unpredictability of the God whose ways are higher than our ways. They speak of transformed lives; of being freed from substance abuse, hopelessness, and a lifetime spent in jail. Their relegation to the fringes of society seems to only increase their fervency–the persecution validating their interpretation.
Their error is obvious from the outside looking in. We understand that passion on its own is never enough. Passion must be harnessed by discipline, steered by wisdom, and trained by love. It’s simple enough to shake our head, commenting that unyoked passion is as thrilling and destructive as the venomous bite of a rattler.
The errors of others are easy to see and fun to laugh at. But our own errors are never as comical.
I can’t help but wonder if I’m placing the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble in any areas of my own walk.
Do I dare look to see where I’m distracting from the gospel?
Where have my own devout faith and good intentions been misled by foolishness and inaccurate interpretation?
In what ways am I standing in a crowded room of vehement supporters, our unanimity masking the idiocy of the fistful of serpents writhing in my grasp?
Which of my convictions and preferences have usurped my faith, forced the abdication of love, and unnecessarily caused those on the ‘outside’ to cock their eyebrows quizzically as they walk away?