Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Death in the Box

Matthew 10:28, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Snake-handling throws an interesting twist on Christian faith and practice. Leaving hermaneutics aside and focusing upon the mind-set of a Christian who believes that, ..."If I get bit, don't take me to no doctor. If God can’t deliver me, let me go on home to be with Him. I believe that with all my heart. I'm not going to no doctor for snakebites. God said to do this and if you do it and He can't take care of you, He'd be a mighty poor God." ... I find myself questioning the depth of my own faith. What do I believe about God? What am I being saved from?  What are the parameters of my Christian life? Is there a limit to my obedience to God?

As the Preacher warns at the serpent-handling service, "There is death in the boxes!". There is death in this life. There is death before the end of life. There must exist faith.

As Christians we are commanded to 'daily' take up our cross. We are commanded to 'die to self', to sacrifice our self-interest, to subdue our Malthusian fears and live life totally dedicated to God. We are to be unquestionably devote. We are to accept as God's will any and all blessings or hardships, feeling neither proud nor abased. We are simply to obey. But, there is death in the box. 

Numbers 21:8, "Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall (will) be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall (will) live." The question comes to mind; Why would you not look if you were bitten? The standing of the cross in the desert with a snake on it was for healing. What was/is the fear in looking to the cross for healing? The inability to admit to failing, to recognize sin, is an action as a result of pride. Pride is a detriment to obedience and subsequently faith. There is death in the box.  

What we have here is a study, in a vividly real physical context, of how God ends the separation people have from God due to sin with a reconciliatory act. Is it important whether it is an act of reaching into a crate of snakes or confessing my sin? It is obedience. There is death in the box. The triumph is not a victory from snake-bite nor snake venom, it is a victory over death. Obedience does not create immunity from the poison, it is an act of faith which motivates the believer to reach in. The victory here is in the act of obedience. It is the sign of them that believe. It occurs within the heart of the believer, its internal, this is not a theological abstraction, it is a demonstration in real time, in a real flesh and blood experience.

It is the root of fear, exposed and conquered. It has its foundation in the annals of time. It is the pursuit of redemption, the quest for a resurrection. Obedience is a sign following them that believe. Psalm 49:5,7,8, "Why should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity at my heels surrounds me? ... None of them can by any means redeem ... nor give to God a ransom ... for the redemption of their souls is costly,..." The manifestation of the power of God in the redemption of sinful man is the sole emphasis of His revelation. Deut. 9:26, "... O Lord God, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance whom You have redeemed through Your greatness ..." Deut. 32:9, "For the Lord's portion is His people: ..."
The emphasis is upon God's sovereignty and authority and the amazing, stupefying and terrifying revelation that His goal in all of time and life experience is to provide salvation for mankind. There is death in the box ...
"As an eagle stirs up its nest,
hovers over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings,
So the Lord alone led ..."

Embracing the victory requires obedience, in this is the resurrection and the resounding security of the redemptive act of the cross, "... defending He will also deliver; passing over, He will preserve ..." The resurrection experience is a daily part of living - it transcends the everyday - it is a sign following those who believe - there is death in the box. William Stringellow: "Resurrection, however, refers to the transcendence of the power of death and the fear or thrall of the power of death, here and now, in this life, in this world. Resurrection, thus, has to do with life and, indeed, the fulfillment of life before death.1 Peter 3:18-20a, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient,..."
[Christ's] power over death is effective not just at the terminal point of a person's life but throughout one's life, during this life in this world, right now. This power is effective in the times and places in the daily lives of human beings when they are so gravely and relentlessly assailed by the claims of principalities for an idolatry that, in spite of all disguises, really surrenders to death as the reigning presence in the life of the world. His resurrection means the possibility of living in this life, in the very midst of death's works, safe and free from death." To ask the question again, What am I being saved from?

1 Peter 4:6, "For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit."
Ephesians 4.8-10, "Therefore He says: “ When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)"
Acts 2:31 " He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption."
The Harrowing of Hell is the reference to the time spent by Jesus between His death and His resurrection. There was death in the box.

"As [Christ's] hand grasps the hands of Adam and Eve, Jesus goes back to embrace the first imaginable moment of rebellion and false direction in human life...we are reminded that he goes fully into the depths of human agony. He reaches back to and beyond where human memory begins." In the human story, both yours and mine, is the refusal and fear which began with Adam and the after-effects of that moment. " ...wherever that lost moment is or was, Christ has been there, to implant the possibility, never destroyed, of another turning, another future..." I cannot think of a more indescribable moment than the moment in which I would place my hand into a box of snakes. Psalm 89:48, "What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?"
True life, life without fear, life embraced, life courageous, cannot be experienced when we are under the thrall of death. The victory is not simply the belief that there is life after death, the victory is fearlessness in this life. "Otherwise our lives are pushed and pulled by our survival instincts, our needs for security or a pay check or protecting my place in the world. We become hoarding, aggressive Malthusian creatures."
What depth of human/divine life is possible? What limits do I/we impose upon our lives because fear has me/us in its grasp? What richness am I/we missing for lack of faith?
Ephesians 3:14-20,  "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

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