Denial, Snake Venom, Same Thing

Photo credit: <a href="">S. Pisharam</a>

Numbers 21:4-9

From the huge mountain, they set out by the Great Marsh Road around Edom. As they traveled, the people lost patience with Moses, and began badmouthing Moses, and God too. “Why did you bring us from Egypt to the desert without food or water? Are you trying to kill us? And what’s with this awful bread?”

So God sent poisonous snakes among them. They bit the people, and many of those who were bitten died.

Then the people came to Moses saying, “We were wrong to say what we did about you and God. Please ask God to call off the snakes.”

So Moses asked God, and God instructed Moses, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and put it on a pole. When someone gets bitten, they can look at the replica and live.” So Moses made a bronze replica of the snakes and put it on a pole, so whenever people got snake-bit, they could look at the bronze snake and live.

Leave aside the theological problems of a God whose temper is like a short-fused short-order cook who wants to get even when people complain about the food. This is about a community in denial.

The people have been given freedom. They have been given the resources they need to make a new life. But freedom is hard. It’s much easier to have someone (call that person an Egyptian slave driver, if you like) telling you what to do. It’s hard to find your way where no one has been before. It’s much easier to follow a map.

It’s hard to do original work, to form genuine community. It’s much easier to nit-pick. Nit-picking is a symptom of denial. It’s a way of diverting attention from the work you need to do, by focusing on all the reasons you can’t do it.

Notice that God doesn’t call off the snakes. The consequences of the people’s behavior remains the same. People continue to get bitten. That’s how denial works. The longer you stay in it, the more it bites.

Never mind that looking at a bronze replica on a pole isn’t any kind of medical antidote to snake venom. What is illustrated is that the way through the consequences is to honestly come face to face with them. Denial does no good. It only allows the problem to fester even further until it goes from being just a setback to being fatal.

Name your community’s denial and its consequences for what it is. The sooner the better. Put it on a pole if you have to. And then keep moving toward the promise.