Facing Down Leviathan

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (1)

In studying Scripture, I keep coming upon Nachash (Nahash). “Serpent” is one translation. Leviathan is another.

My image of the serpent in Genesis came straight from the pictures in the big, family Bible I first read when I was five. They were supplemented by others from Sunday school books and various paintings. All of them pretty much depicted a big snake with or without appendages. I had only a hazy image of Leviathan. The priest who confirmed me said, in response to my queries, “It’s a primordial hippopotamus.” I was unconvinced. Leviathan was a sea creature and hippos aren’t known for their ocean-going tendencies. Over the past few years, I’ve learned Leviathan, in size, is a more like Jörmungandr, the giant Midgard Serpent. He’s also utterly terrifying. God tells Job:

Orange-Leviathan_smallLay hands on him;
think of the battle;
you will not do it again!
Behold,
the hope of a man is disappointed;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
No one is so fierce
that he dares to stir him up. (2)

The serpent in the Garden (Nachash in the original Hebrew) is Leviathan (also Nachash in the original Hebrew) in Job and Ezekiel and in many other places throughout the Bible.

But wait! This all actually has a point that is central to Loved As If in which I dive into theodicy and hope I don’t drown.

In a recently published article, my friend, Dr. Randall Smith, following St. Augustine, writes, “the really crucial moment in the story—the actual fall—occurs when Adam ‘deliberately decides—despite not being deceived—to disfigure by sin the spousal fellowship he and Eve had already been given by God.'”

How often have I passed over “Adam was not deceived” (3) because I was bristling about Paul saying woman would be saved through child birth. As I read Dr. Smith’s article, those four words finally resounded through me stirring up immense horror: “Adam was not deceived.” He knew better.

When God places Adam in the garden, He instructs him to “till it and keep it.” What isn’t readily apparent is that God gives Adam the same priestly charge He will later give the Levites who are to tend the Ark of the Covenant:

[B]ut appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it, and shall encamp around the tabernacle. (4)

I’ve seen many depictions of the Israelites in battle with the Ark of the Covenant. Usually the Ark is surrounded by a few Levites vested as per God’s instructions to Moses. But in reality, the Ark would have been surrounded by all the sons of Kohath (5), more than 8,00 men, ready to cut down anyone who came near. And the Kohathites set out in the midst of the hosts of Israel; the Ark is surrounded by warriors. It was just that precious. And so was the garden before it.

But Adam threatens not even the most minimal battle to protect it. So the serpent, Nachash, Leviathan, gets into the garden — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash questions Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash beguiles Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. But he is there all the time.

Modern English doesn’t use a plural form of the pronoun “you” so we aren’t aware that in Hebrew, Nachash is speaking to both Adam and Eve when he asks: “Did God say, `[You both] shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And Adam is there when Nachash says: “[You both] will not die. For God knows that when [you both] eat of it your eyes will be opened, and [you both] will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (6) The English translation is painfully haunting when one realizes Adam might have pulled Eve away and whispered to her, ‘God will be along at the breezy time of the day. Let’s ask Him then.’ Instead, Adam remains silent and eats the fruit even though he knows Nachash is lying.

The fall involved neither sex nor eating an apple. The fall actually occurred because Adam decides he’s not facing down Leviathan. Adam balks at suffering and sacrifice. (So does Eve but I’m not telling that story here.) He knowingly chooses himself over God, his bride, and his priestly charge.

For long, I thought suffering came as a result of the fall. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love God. And I knew (because I had tried) that I couldn’t just will myself to stop loving Him. But I was appalled that God would allow suffering in my life. Suffering came as a result of sin. Why should I suffer for the sins of others? In my mind, suffering was a linear equation: my sin equals my suffering, the only variables were the sins I might commit. I truly felt that I and other innocent people ought to be exempt or at least ought to be given a pass after a certain amount of suffering. I was woefully ignorant.

Suffering was built in from the beginning. It was never something from which I or anyone else could be exempt. The original, deluxe, Imago Dei operating system that was the very life God breathed into Adam could not be fully actualized unless Adam laid down his life for the sake God, Eve, and the garden.

And that’s why Christ is the new Adam. He doesn’t flee suffering. He faces down Leviathan though He doesn’t want to die. He goes to the cross and reboots humanity. His reboot isn’t an undoing of suffering and sacrifice. Instead, Christ restores us to our original factory settings so that we might operate from the Imago Dei, so that we might truly sacrifice and suffer instead of simply hurting in confusion, so that we too might face Leviathan and lay down our lives for our friends. Christians can now suffer as God had always intended, as Christ did, as Adam did not.

We won’t always see that our suffering accomplishes anything. When suffering includes a linear equation, that’s only a hint of its fullness. It makes sense that a father would sacrifice himself to save his child. But when we’re in pain or foregoing something we want or need for the sake of another, we don’t always know how God is working our suffering and sacrifice into the entire program. Then again, it’s difficult to understand how Adam’s actions can affect all of creation. But for many, it’s just as difficult to understand how a few lines of code can wreck a computer. Yet most of us know what a computer virus can do.

In the end, for all our babble about self-worth and self-esteem, we can’t really imagine our immense value. When Paul writes, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” (7) it’s hard to see how “the glorious liberty of the children of God” will restore creation. Just as it’s hard to accept that “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope.” (8) Our brains are groggy from living in a world that only recognizes fairly simple mathematics. The immense creativity that allows creation to wait “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (9) demands well-developed imaginations and hearts.

Christians can catch a peek now and then. Some more, some less. We can trust that creation is waiting for the Adam Christ restored in all those who follow Him to do what the original Adam did not do in the garden. We’re not to chase suffering. Masochism is of Nachash and has no place in the Imago Dei operating system. For the same reason, we are not to sacrifice out of pride. But a lot hinges on us. The restoration of all of creation longs for our “glorious liberty.”

We obtain that liberty by following Christ, the new Adam. We obtain it by accepting the suffering and sacrifice God allows into our lives. We unleash it’s immense power when, through the grace of God, we say, ‘This time, I’m facing down Leviathan.’ I can’t yet say, with some of the saints, that I rejoice in suffering. But I know, when we suffer with Christ, the uncorrupted Imago Dei operating system becomes fully activated and finally, we begin to grow into what God created us to become from the beginning.

(1) Genesis 2:15 (RSV)

(2) Job 41:8-10 (RSV). Image source.

(3) 1 Timothy 2:14 (RSV)

(4) Numbers 1:50 (RSV)

(5) Numbers 3:29 (RSV)

(6) Michael Barber, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today, Emmaus Road Publishing (January 1, 2006). Genesis 3:4-5 (RSV)

(7) Romans 8:21 (RSV)

(8) Romans 8:20 (RSV)

(9) Romans 8:19 (RSV)

Tell me what you think. Thanks.

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