Denial, Snake Venom, Same Thing

python
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/spisharam/3390095091/">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.

What You Should Do when Nobody’s Looking

Rolodex cards
Photo image: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sidewalk_flying/2421382093/">Seth Sawyers</a>

Malachi 1:6-9

“A son honors his father. An employee respects her employer. But if I am a father, where’s my honor. If I’m an employer, where’s my respect?” says God to you priests who despise me.

“How have we despised you?” you ask.

“By coming to my alter with polluted food.”

“How have we polluted your food?” you ask.

“When you tell yourselves you can get away with bringing blind animals for sacrifice, isn’t that evil? When you bring lame or sick animals, isn’t that evil? Would you bring that crap to the President? Would he say it was ok and put you in his Rolodex?” God says.

“And now you have the nerve to ask me for favors and want me to do all kinds of special things for you?” says God. “It’s your own fault if you think I’m going to do you any favors.”

What do you do when nobody’s looking? How do you behave when you’re pretty sure nobody’s ever going to find out what you did?

Do you still do your best work? Or do you cut corners?

God is the great invisible. Even if you don’t believe in God, the point is that what you do when nobody’s watching is still important. It works precisely because you can’t see God. So it’s as if nobody is watching. But it’s still important. And it will still matter when your work, whatever that work is, needs to be turned in.

It will show in the quality of the final product. In the virtuosity of the performance. In the attitude of the presentation. In the effect of the service. In the intrinsic reward of having done something worth doing. Think about it. Who are you really fooling? Whose experience and life are you really diminishing by holding back your very best? And if it’s not God (and whose to say God might be looking?) and nobody else is looking, then it must be you.

The moral of the story: When nobody else is looking, act in such a way that you’d put your name in your own Rolodex.