The serpent’s head


Revelation 12


2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

What language shall we use to discuss the monstrosity of evil that rampages across our world?  The use of sarin gas on children in Syria, the slaughter of shoppers in a mall in Nairobi, the deluded hunter in the Navyl Yard, the hijacked airplanes flown into the twin towers, and whatever it is we should call the twisted reign in North Korea.

What language shall we use to describe the evils that erupt again and again in human history?  The pograms and death camps and slaughter of innocents?  The marching of peoples out into the desert to perish?  The torture of prisoners of war?  The bombing of churches and marketplaces.  The lynchings and disappearings?  The hidden crimes against children?

And what of those tragedies without evil intent that seem to overflow with human misery?  The famines and floods and earthquakes?  The forgotten brake on a train that engulfs a town in a holocaust?

How do such evils erupt in a world where most people are good neighbors and kind to animals and looking only for peaceful lives?  A dragon seems an apt metaphor, a serpent writ large that writhes across the sky and threatens to devour all that is good.

Our questions are not answered by a rational explanation of the wiring of the human brain and the functioning of human societies, or by a theological exposition on that nature of God, suffering and human will; they are not a quest for information but a cry of anguish and confusion and a hunger for hope.  Still our sighs and groanings do contain an important spiritual question, the answer to which requires the language of metaphor: there is a dragon, a dragon that must be slain.

Day after day, again and again, in every human heart, there is a dragon that must be slain.  I cannot yield myself to ignorance, to hate, to anger, to revenge, to tribalism, to the comfort of lies and illusions.  I cannot yield myself to pettiness, bitterness or despair.  I cannot yield myself to callousness of heart or soul.  There is a dragon that must be slain.  Drowned in the waters of heaven’s promise.  Cast from the throne that God alone may rule.

And to those who seek the better angels of our natures – as well as to those who think there are none – comes the news: the dragon is thrown down.  Purged from the heavens he storms about the earth breaking what he can.  Yet, it is but a child’s tantrum; his days are numbered, his defeat sure, his destiny is the pit.

In the garden of Gethsemane came the words “not my will but yours be done,” and the serpent’s head was crushed.  He lives now only by the life we give him, and even that shall come to an end.

The language is the language of metaphor, but the promise is sure.  There are many witnesses to the cross, the tomb, and the risen Christ.  And we feel the power of his Spirit.

The news has come from the battlefield: the victory is won, the lamb who was slain has begun his reign.  Captured, empowered and sustained by this word, we live with courage and joy and sing the song of heaven.

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