Most Christians know that in the beginning, there was a serpent. And it was the serpent who was responsible for deceiving Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a sin that cut them off from the God who walked with them in the cool of the day and sent them packing for somewhere east of Eden.
But seriously, what's the deal with the serpent?
When we ask that question, we're asking a couple of things. We're asking, first, why it is that God created the serpent at all, if its job was only to tempt and to distract and to destroy the pinnacle of His creation in turning man away from Him. We're also asking, why the serpent? Out of all the beings that God created, why is the serpent given this job?
The first question is rather simple. In order for free will and real choice to exist, man had to have access to more than one viable option. There had to be another voice in his ear if he was to meaningfully choose the voice of God, and so God created a whisperer who would ensure that man must always choose God from free will. The serpent became the whisperer.
This means, by the way, that without the serpent, there could not be real love. So, on behalf of the serpent, you're welcome.
Now, to the second question, why the serpent? Why, out of all the beings and structures and organisms that God created did He task the serpent with the deceitful whisper?
The serpent moves unlike any other creature on the planet. Of course, we know that it slithers along its belly, but it's more than that. The serpent, in its movement, moves by sheer force of will. No other creature moves this way.
Men, apes, animals that move along the ground the way that we do, even a lot of insects who primarily use their legs, move by force of dominion. We have a certain measure of greatness and freedom that enables us to pick up our feet and put them where we want them, to cut through the air and across the land by sheer desire to do so. We bypass whatever obstacles are in our way by simply going around or over or under them, at our own discretion. Thus, we operate with no resistance.
Fish move through the water and birds move through the air by capitalizing on resistance. They use their bodies to displace the water or the air in one way or another, then use the displacement of the water or the air to the benefit of their bodies, creating a current in which they move. This, too, is a form of dominion; they maximize their freedom by exercising control over their environments.
The serpent, not so much. The serpent cannot escape anything, and he does not control his environment. In his movement, he doesn't displace anything, and there's nothing he can just "go around." Every act of the serpent's movement is done by sheer force of will. He wills himself to slither forward, wills himself to move. He must push through the resistance offered him by his environment. Even when you see a snake in the water, he is not - like the fish - using the resistance of the water to move himself; he's forcing his way through.
So every move of the serpent is a deliberate one. It can be no other way. He must decide where he is going and drag himself there. He must choose to move, then put forth the muscle to go about it. He must fight for every inch that he takes.
Why wouldn't the serpent be the creature who bears the whisper? It is he alone who knows how thoroughly we must choose it. How wholly we must commit ourselves to it.
The deception, it wasn't an accident. Eve didn't mistakenly take the fruit of that tree, and she and Adam didn't accidentally eat some of it. It had to be chosen, an act of will at every turn. Intentional. Purposeful. Because it was what was desired.
We don't accidentally sin. We don't - oops! - choose against God. It is an act of the will at every turn. Intentional. Purposeful. Like trying to will ourselves across the ground. No force of nature, no law of physics, helps us to do it. It is purely, 100% our decision and our act. We take ourselves to sin.
There's a reason we must understand the serpent, and it's not just because of what happens in the beginning. The snake will rear his ugly head again in Scripture, but this time, something is fundamentally different about him....