The “God-Criminal”

“And when the barbarians saw the [venomous] beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” (Acts 28:4-6)

It’s amazing what a miracle, or even a perceived miracle, will do to influence the heart of man. I’m not really sure whether a miracle took place in the above passage or not, but this is the case of a snake clinging on to the apostle Paul’s hand. By all reasonable standards, the people of that land expected the snake to bite and kill Paul with its venomous poison. And whether or not he got bitten, I have no idea – the Bible doesn’t say. But what we do know for sure is that he didn’t die as expected. Was this a miracle? Possibly. Or possibly the snake just didn’t bite him. Either way, however, the folks of that land perceived it as a miracle. And what an effect it had!

On the one hand, believing that he had surely been bitten and was about to die, they labelled him as a murderer! On the other hand — just moments later — upon seeing him not experience any pain or swelling, they declared that he must be a god! How frivolous indeed! That, I think, is what James would call being “like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). These men certainly wavered in their convictions based on very scant evidence indeed! For it is exceedingly unwise, I think, to judge a man that you have never met based on a single event like that by which you have no means to ascertain what this man is really like in the big scheme of things.

For indeed, does a snake bite prove that a man is unworthy? Is this God’s judgment upon a person? Or, let me bring it closer to home. Did those who died in the twin towers, and in the plane crash in Pennsylvania, and in Washington on September 11, 2001 deserve to die like that? I have read accounts of at least one preacher saying that they did! How wrong he is indeed. Life is not that simple, friends. Whether Paul got bitten or not would not have proven that he was righteous or not. Was the man beaten by robbers and later picked up by the good Samaritan a bad man because he was robbed and beaten? Was this God’s judgment upon him? The whole point of the story was have mercy! It was the priest and the Levite who passed by who were, well, much like those who judged Paul, I think.

Herein lies a classic case of judging too quickly with unrighteous judgment. Yes, we are to judge. But Jesus said we should do that “not according to the appearance, but [to] judge [with] righteous judgment” (John 7:24). First and foremost we are to have mercy on others. That is the main thing. Don’t get me wrong, of course. God does judge. And being bitten by a snake can be a form of judgment. However, let’s not be so quick to judge that all bad things that happen to people are a result of them being unrighteous or having sinned. Who called you or me to issue forth that judgment? That, I think, is the height of arrogance. Instead, we ought to let God be the one to judge, and specialize in showing mercy towards others. After all, that is the thing that is supposed to characterize the life of Christian, is is not?

Be blessed today, and be filled with the mercy of God.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)