I’m reading through Genesis 3 thoroughly alongside a terrific commentary (Interpretation Series, Genesis, Walter Brueggemann), and something just struck me that I thought I should write about.
The function of the serpent in Genesis 3 is fascinating. The way that the serpent specifically “tempts” humanity is not how Christians today I think would expect. As Brueggemann writes, “The serpent says back God’s speech in just enough of a twist to miss the point. The serpent grossly misrepresents God in 3:1 and is corrected by the woman in verses 2-3. But by then the misquotation has opened up to consciousness the possibility of an alternative to the way of God. From that point on, things become distorted.”
See, in Genesis 2, regarding the boundaries and prohibition of the trees, death is mentioned, but it is not highlighted. The trees becomes a symbol for the way God created the world to function in structured ways of freedom and vocation and boundaries, for the purpose of life. The serpent presents an alternate view, that God is a God of crime and punishment, of prohibition alone, of death. But God is a God of freedom, allowance, and love as demonstrated in the creation poetry thus far.
Why do so many of us view God in the way of the serpent? We fear a God who judges, punishes, and condemns based on the law, not realizing that the God of creation is Love, and has made all that is for the flourishing of life!
Most interesting, though, is that Christians so often see the biggest threat as atheism. We fear that those who proclaim there is no God are the enemy, and that a world that doesn’t believe in God is taking over.
But the temptation of the serpent is not to deny the existence of God, but to change our view of the character of God. The serpent convinces humanity that God is not one of Love, life, and active participation, but of punishment, law and distance. I think what we learn from this is that far more dangerous than not believing in God at all is falling for a deception of what God’s character is. Perhaps this is why Jesus is so important for a “new creation”: Jesus is the fullest reflection of God’s character, and Jesus was full of love, acceptance, and sacrificial peacemaking.
Any image of God that does not look like Jesus is a distortion, the ultimate temptation. What we believe about the nature and character of God will change EVERYTHING.
May we not be deceived by poor theologies and teachings that show us a character of God other than what we see in Jesus, lest we be tempted just like those in the story of Genesis 3.