My friend, colleague, and main competition in the Christian Century blog-o-sphere, Evan Garner, did something very old fashioned yesterday, he commented on my blog: not on the Facebook post that links to my blog, but on the blog proper. If you read this through Facebook, then odds are you didn’t see it, and you missed out. So, for those of you who missed it, here’s his comment.
“I don’t think the snake story is as much about punishment as it is about salvation. Those who look at the serpent on the pole are healed. It’s no accident that the serpent is what hit them in the first place. Healing–salvation–comes from the one who forces us to gaze upon the consequence of our own sin in the crucifixion of Christ.”
He also wrote a blog post about it. As I read and reread his comment and thought about the lesson from Numbers and Jesus referring to it in John and Paul’s discourse on grace in Ephesians, all I could think was “Grace?!? How can getting saved from snakebites by the God who sent the snakes be grace?” The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this is a perfect explanation of Paul’s famous line, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”
It is grace that brings us to faith at all. Sometimes, maybe even often, that grace comes in the realization that we are in need of saving. Be it an alcoholic lying in the gutter, a workaholic watching his family move out, or a cynic realizing he no longer trusts anyone – whatever your sin(s) of choice may be, there comes a time when you realize that snakes have been biting you for quite some time and you are in desperate need of relief. That realization, the impetus to look up to the heavens, to seek out Jesus who was lifted up on the cross for our redemption, is the work of God’s amazing grace. That grace is the spark that ignites faith, and faith is what will change your life.
Grace is hard to wrap our minds around. That we can’t even come to know the grace-filled love of Jesus without having grace come first catches us in a chicken-egg conundrum, but thanks be to God for those snakes, and Evan Garner, who help make some sense of it all.