17 January 2006

Brass Serpent

The story of the brass serpent in the Bible has always bothered me. I never really understood why in the world the Israelites would refuse to look if there was even a chance it could save their lives. It just seemed so irrational not to try anything you could when you knew the only other option was death. However, in reading the story in the context of Alma, I've found two possible ways this story works:

  1. Some people may have not looked out of fear that it wouldn't work. Since this event is a type of the atonement, I think we can be reasonably sure that only those who looked on the serpent and believed it would heal them were saved. From this, it is easy to imagine that some may have feared that looking on the serpent might simply expose their lack of faith to everyone around them. In a highly religious community, this would be an extremely shameful thing. (Even in the church today, admitting doubt usually brands you as an outsider. Thus the boringness of Sunday school: no real questions can be asked and no real discussion can take place because of social pressure to portray an image of faith.)
  2. This story also works as a metaphorical exaggeration of a situation all people face. People, particularly our religious leaders and parents, are always giving us advice that they promise, if followed, will solve a problem we are facing or enhance our lives. Often times, we don't do it. Why is this? The people giving us this advice are people we trust, people who have more experience than us. I would say we choose not to listen because of both pride (who wants to admit they couldn't figure out the solution on their own?) and laziness (why put forth the effort for a solution we don't even know will work?). The reason the brass serpent story appears so absurd is that the action is much more passive than the actions usually required to make life-saving changes. Also, we are far removed from the social context and individuality of the experience; thus, we don't see the pride in a realistic way.

Even though I just finished the Book of Mormon, I'm learning so much by reading it again. I see so many things that I didn't see before. I'm more focused on contemplating rather than finishing.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to me. My roomies made me a great Harry Potter cake with golden snitch ice cream. It was hysterical.

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