I recently finished reading a book that someone had recommended to me. It was interesting and about a topic I had never heard of. It was about a journalist who covers the story of a snake-handling preacher accused of attempted murder. At gun point he forced his wife to stick her arm in a box filled with rattlesnakes. As this journalist covers the story, he finds himself immersed in a whole new world…believers in Christ who not only handle poisonous snakes but who drink strychnine, which is a toxic alkaloid.
Snake handling is a real thing. It’s a ritual performed amongst a small number of Pentecostal churches in the United States. As I read this book, the thought that kept nagging at me was “Why?” What was the point? Sure, they quoted scripture to try and back up their reasoning: And these signs should follow them that believe: In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mark 16:17-18). However, what was the motivation behind it?
Throughout this story as you read about their gatherings at church, it sounded more and more like it was nothing more than a show. It was a dangerous ritual obviously and many have lost their lives to it. In fact, this journalist finds himself so caught up in it that he ends up handling a snake in the midst of a pretty wild church service. Toward the end of the book, although the journalist has become friends with many of the snake-handlers, he begins to also question their reasons for doing what they do. They claim it is to confirm the Word. In fact, they say that someone has to do it or the Word is found to be a lie.
This journalist also began to question why he took up a snake. He examined his own heart and discovered that it was about partaking in “ecstatic worship.” It was all about the experience and the addiction to danger. In the end, he leaves that world behind, discovering his own faith. So here’s the question that probes my mind as I think about this story. Is what we do in the name of the Lord for a show, something we do just for an experience?
Any time we are at the altar, during a moment in prayer, or any time we are before God should be more than just an experience. It should cause something in us to change or grow. Experience with God is not just for the sake of experience…its not to make us feel good or to get something out of it. Anytime we meet with God in any way, it should cause a change inside us.
These changes are not for our own good. They should always affect those around us. Anything within you that changes, will impact the lives of those around you…unless you are a hermit or something. Maybe God is working in you to grow the fruit of the Spirit or maybe He shows you something in your life that needs to end. It may be time to work on a nasty habit you have had or it could be to increase your faith. No matter what it is, time spent with God, an experience with God doesn’t end there. It reaches out and impacts others! And if it doesn’t, then maybe we need to examine our motives and reasons behind what we do.
The other thing I was thinking about after reading this book was how the snake-handlers thought that if they didn’t handle the snakes and drink the poison it would make the Word to be a lie. Do we as believers really have to go around proving the Word to be true? I don’t think so. In fact, I think others will see the Word is truth by the way we live our lives. We can prove the Word through our lifestyle, our choices, our words and our actions. If we claim to know Christ, I guarantee you that you are being watched! Some are watching just to see you slip and fall. They want to show that you are not who you say you are. They want your imperfections to come shining through. But others are watching because they want to see what it is that you have that makes you so different.
We don’t have to prove the Word. All the proof needed is in the world around us. God’s creation is proof. Our job is to live our lives in such a way that others can see Him through us. So you want to prove that God exists? Let Him be revealed through everything you say and do!