1Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Have you ever stepped back and read this without your Sunday school lens on? I don’t know about you but there are some places in scripture that if I don’t catch myself I’ll assume a lot about it, simply because that’s what I’ve been taught to assume. I call it the Sunday school lens; it is reading the text and assuming it means exactly what your Sunday school teacher would tell you.
Now if you have a Sunday school lens try taking it off and re-reading the text above. Who do you think the serpent is? I always assumed it was Satan but the text never tells us that it’s Satan. And when you assume it’s Satan you automatically assume his/her intentions are evil. Have you ever actually stopped to wonder what’s going through the serpent’s mind? Usually we just skip that part and go on thinking that the serpent was lying to them, knowing that they’d bring about a curse if ate from the tree. But what if the serpent was honestly thinking in the best interest of the people? After all, at this point nothing negative has been said of the serpent. In fact the text seems to hold him/her in high regard; “the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.”
Why would the serpent want the curse to come about anyway? Remember it wasn’t just the woman and the man that were cursed. The first one who gets cursed is the serpent.
“Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
Poor serpent… this doesn’t sound too good so what’s the motivation? Why would the serpent want this? Why would he/she knowingly bring about such a curse upon him/herself? If the serpent is so “cunning” then why, unless it was unintentional? Maybe the serpent didn’t want Eve to be cursed any more than she did. Maybe the serpent isn’t evil but just ignorant. Of course they all should have known better. Eve should have known better than to listen to a talking snake anyway.
So what importance could this possibly have? Are these questions a waste of time? Who cares if the serpent is Satan or not, it’s just a character to help us understand our current struggle with temptation. True, but if the serpent isn’t Satan, isn’t evil, and isn’t really trying to hurt anybody then our whole perception on the struggle between good and evil will change. Our view on sin nature will change. Our view on theodicy (the problem of evil) will change.
God created a lush garden, a paradise. He didn’t create anything that wasn’t good at all. “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1.31). God didn’t create evil He created good, He couldn’t have created evil because His act of creation was an act of love. God is love (1 John 4.16) and love doesn’t even think evil (1 Corinthians 13.5) let alone create it. So what was it that convinced Eve to take of the forbidden? Was it Satan, was it Evil? If not then what was it? It had to have been something good, something very good. This makes the dichotomy a little more fuzzy than we’re comfortable with doesn’t it? Evil becomes a little more mysterious, it’s not as simple as a snake in a garden.
Saint Augustine, who thought a lot about this, suggested that since God created everything very good then everything that has any substance is good. And if it wasn’t good it wouldn’t exist. “If then, they are deprived of all good, they will cease to exist. So long as they are, they are good. Therefore, whatsoever is, is good” (Confessions 7.12). In fact something is only evil if it is something that is good in the first place and is somehow not “harmonizing with other” things which are also good (Confessions 7.13). So maybe this scene in the garden is not evil meddling against good but good not “harmonizing” with other good. Maybe the scene of our lives is not good against evil but good desperately trying to harmonize with itself.
The biggest struggle in our lives is not necessarily against Satan. Maybe the enemy is the brother you can’t forgive or the friend you fought with and never reconciled. It’s bruising your heal isn’t it? Maybe the voice you hear deceiving you is not to be fought against and defeated but embraced and befriended. We are struggling for reconciliation, the restoration of harmony in the garden. Our victory is not in the destruction of our enemies but in renewed harmony with them through the love we have for them. God created us out of love and it is by love we will be restored. So we love relentlessly and by love we will restore our relationship with God and even with the serpent, ending this terrible bruising.