The Serpent Did It

Dr. Robert R. Ball

                                                Sermon from February 14, 1971:

                          T H E

                                           S E R P E N T

                                                                              D I D

                                                                                                  I T     



                     T H E
                               S E R P E N T
                                                     D I D
                                                              I T

                                                              Genesis 3:1 — 13

                                                      Sermon by Dr. Robert R. Ball
                                                 Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
                                                Houston, Texas     February 14, 1971

          What’s wrong with our world today? Nearly everyone has a theory. Some say
     it’s that the younger generation no longer respects authority and other say that the
     authorities have no respect for the younger generation. Some say there are too
     many people looking for a handout, and others say that the privileged classes
     have no compassion for the hurts of the needy. Some say the problem is too
     much government interference, and others say the government ought to step in
     and put an end to all this foolishness. About the only thing most people agree on
     is that the world is in one heckuva messand one thing more, the fault for it
     always belongs to someone else.

          That’s exactly how Adam and Eve felt when their world fell apart. They had a
     veritable paradise going for them; but before you could say, “The devil made me
     do it,” it was smashed, collapsed in the rubble of broken, impossible dreams.

          God was understandably upset. He had labored carefully and lovingly to put
     the world together; and when he finished, it was very, very good. Now it was a
     shambles. When he was finally able to locate the creature he had made to love
     and enjoy (they were hiding in the wreckage), he asked what had gone wrong.
     As Adam saw it, it was his wife’s fault, and he hinted that it was partly God’s  – 
     because God was the one who had given him that vicious woman in the first
     place. Through her tears, Eve sobbed that it wasn’t her fault. It was the serpent
     who had caused it  –  which still made it God’s fault since God was the one who
     had created the serpent.

          I have just an inkling of how God must have felt. His beautiful creation lay in
     ruins; and no one was to blame for it, except possibly God himself. It’s like when
     someone at our house leaves the back gate open and the dog gets out.
     Everyone in the family knows that one of the neighbors has vowed that he’ll shoot
     that silly dog if his trash cans get tipped over one more time. Our whole family
     has talked about this problem many times and with increasing urgency. “Be sure
     you don’t leave the gate unlocked!” But the gate is open and the dog is gone;
     and no one in the family has been anywhere near the gate all day. How can we
     keep getting into these big problems when no one has done anything wrong? It
     must have been one of the neighbors that did it.


          “What’s wrong with our world?” is a question the Bible answers specifically
     and directly. The whole problem is that man, created to live in a trusting, loving
     relationship with God, is living in exile. He has separated himself from God.
     Whatever else may SEEM to be wrong is only a result of that one basic fact.
     When that one essential element of what it means to be human is missing,
     nothing else can be right.

          That’s what this whole drama in the Garden of Eden is saying. God created
     human beings and gave them everything they would ever need for a full and
     fascinating life. The only restriction was that they be willing to be human, and not
     try to pretend that they were gods. But we humans are not content to be human.
     It makes us nervous to think that our knowledge and power have any limits. We
     keep trying to prove it isn’t true, and we have to defy the authority of God to do
     it. So we keep reaching out for the tree of knowledge, grasping our race, our
     education, our reputation, our religion to make us feel secure.

          Man wants to be more than he is. We don’t want God or anyone else to have
     any say about our lives. We have the dream of being fully self-sufficient. Kids
     don’t like to listen to what their parents have to say because they feel that puts
     them down, makes them look like they can’t take care of themselves. Parents
     don’t like to listen to what their kids have to say because they feel that makes
     them look like they aren’t experts about everything in life. Most people don’t pray
     very much unless they get into bad trouble because they don’t like the idea of
     having a God to whom they are responsible. So everyone goes around grabbing
     for this evidence of security and then that, hoping it will prove that they are the
     captains of their own destinies.

          Then earthquakes and rebellious children and death come along. They really
     frighten us  –  not just because of their obvious threat, but even more because
     they seem to suggest that our most carefully laid plans aren’t enough. We aren’t
     finally in charge. They make it appear that we are creatures, not creators; and we
     can’t stand that. We don’t even like to look at the possibility that these lives of
     ours may not be completely our own to do with as we please.

          If we have to tear the world apart, fighting wars in our families and around the
     world to prove it, we want to show that we are self sufficient. We don’t have to
     depend on or obey any Almighty God. Then we ask innocently, “What’s wrong     
     with our world?” And we usually answer by saying, “It’s the communists, or the
     hippies, or the blacks.”

          The problem with the world is that we are separated from God, and the result
     of that problem is that we live in fear. When God finally found Adam hiding in the
     bush and asked why he was hiding, Adam said, “I was afraid.”

          As bad as his situation was, Adam was in better shape than most of us are.
     He was willing to admit why he was doing what he was doing. Most of us are not
     so honest. Do you know why you start yelling and fuming and stomping around
     the house when your kids don’t behave as you have told them they are supposed
     to do? Did you know it is because you are afraid? Afraid that maybe you and
     your authority are not as invincible as you had hoped. Do you kids know why you
     get so furious when your parents won’t let you do something which you wanted so
     very much to do? Did you know it is because you are afraid? Afraid you may
     never get to be your own person and have the opportunity to do your own thing?

          Do you know why you resent it so when someone suggests that perhaps you
     ought to go see a counselor about problems you are having in your marriage?
     Did you know that it is because you are afraid? Afraid that it might be shown that
     you can’t solve all your problems by yourself and that your wife isn’t the only one
     who needs to make some changes?

          Do you know why it is that it bugs you so when the church keeps talking to you
     about your responsibilities before God, both personal and financial? Did you
     know that it is because you are afraid? Afraid that if you acknowledge the
     sovereignty of God you would no longer be able to use your life however you
     please? Being separated from God, everyone in the world is afraid. Deep down
     inside we know that we have bitten off more than we can chew. We know that for
     all our claims to be in charge, we can’t pull off all those big boasts we have made.
     What’s going to happen to us? We’re afraid to ask.

          That’s why no one wants to accept any personal responsibility for the mess
     we’re in. Our lives aren’t right , and we know it. Things are going bad enough as it
     is. If we ever let it out how frightened and unsure of ourselves we are, we fear it
     would all be over. No one would ever like us or respect us again. We’re sure of it.
     So we have to stay in fearful hiding. It’s tough enough trying to like and respect
     ourselves, so we say, “Gosh, no, it’s not my fault. It’s just that my parents are
     over-protective.” Or, “My husband is so insensitive.” Or, “My kids just won’t give
     me a minute’s peace.”

          All of which is a very convenient way of diverting attention away from ourselves,
     a way of avoiding an examination of our own guilts. When it finally turns out that
     we can’t pin the whole thing on that other guy, we can always blame God. “He’s
     the one that made me this way. It’s not my fault.”


          That’s how the creation story ends. Man has defied God in an effort to be the
     god of his own life, and he refuses to accept any responsibility for what he has
     done. But to be separated from God is to be separated from life itself. The
     writers of Genesis saw this clearly. To them it was as if there were a guard with
     a flaming sword standing between them and the life for which they yearned. They
     were cut off, hopeless, and no way to do anything about it. You know the feeling?

          But there is still another chapter to be written. It is called the New Testament,
     and it is written in the blood of Jesus Christ.

          In Christ, God returns to walk around in his chaotic creation once more. In
     Christ, God continues to call to his people, wherever we may be hiding,
     seeking to re-establish that relationship for which we were created and without
     which there is no life. It could hardly be coincidence that when Christ came, the
     angels proclaimed his birth to the shepherds with these words,

                                   “Do not be afraid. For behold I bring you
                                    the good news of a great joy which is coming
                                    to all the people. For to you is born this
                                    day in the city of David, a Savior who is
                                    Christ the Lord.”

          The message of Christ’s gospel is, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore.
     God does not seek to destroy you for your disobedience. God has no desire
     but to draw you back to himself  –  that you might have life and have it more

          Christ says, “Come,” but we say “I’m not separated. I can handle life just fine
     without depending on you. I don’t need any Almighty God in my life.”

          Christ says, “Come,” but we say, “Don’t get the idea that I’m afraid. I’m
     strong and smart and fully self-sufficient. Get out of my way, Jesus.”

          Christ says, “Come,” but we say, “Don’t blame the mess the world’s in on
     me. It’s not my fault or my responsibility. I lead a blameless, upright life.”

          Jesus looked down on his beloved city of Jerusalem, so arrogant and
     resistive to him,

                                    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would
                                     I have gathered you to myself as a hen does
                                     her frightened chicks, but you would not.”

     And Jesus wept. At that point, there is nothing else he can do. We cannot
     receive the life and the love he offers; we cannot even hear him call, unless we
     are wiling to speak the truth, “I am afraid. I am at fault.”

          You sometimes read about it in the newspaper, or see it in a movie, that a
     young man is perched on the ledge of a high building. There’s usually a
     policeman, a wife or mother, and a priest begging the boy not to jump. If you
     were one of those doing the begging, what would you say? How do you plead
     with a man for his own life? How do you convince him that the guilt and misery
     he fears are not as great as the love and opportunity and meaning that await

          That’s the problem God has with us. He’s pleading with us for our lives. What
     will it take to convince us that we are forgiven? That his power is more than able
     to allow us to stand up to the pressures and conflicts all around us? What would
     it take to convince us that we are loved? That he has no desire to make us pay
     for our past? That he only wants to surround us and fill us with all the riches of
     his divine freedom and confidence?

          Christ is pleading with us for our lives, begging us to abandon our
     self-destructive road. When we face up to the truth and say, “I have been wrong;”
     Jesus tells us an even deeper truth, “You are wrong no longer. I have forgiven
     you. I only want you to receive my love and to know the joy of sharing it with
     others  –  that you may become the whole and authentic human beings that your
     loving Father has created you to be.”