05 March 2008

Ophidiphobia , Hamartology, Repentance and Fearing God

I am an ophidiphobe. Snakes of all shapes and sizes terrify me. I have to admit though that I also have a strange fascination with the creatures. I do a pretty good job of disguising my fear of them though. I have never wanted to admit I am afraid of them because I am certain that knowledge could be useful to my enemies or friends with warped senses of humor. In fact, in what could ultimately be the world's best acting performance I actually held a live rattlesnake to prove that I wasn't afraid. The man who had the snake held the working end, and I held the part that rattled. He was impressed and thought I was cool. What he didn't know is that I went home from that experience and trembled for hours.

When I was in kindergarten I walked to and from school with several older children from my neighborhood. I lived with my grandparents at that time and they were not inclined to drive me nor walk the five or six blocks with me. It was a small, rural community in the East Bay Area. It was also a different world then. It was a world where kids went o the corner store and bought penny candy. Or where you could go out on Halloween and trick-or-treat for hours without parental supervision. Everyone walked or rode bikes to get where they were going, and you knew every shortcut to every destination. We had basic rules we followed: Stay out of other people's yards, don't get into cars with strangers, don't yell or otherwise make a nuisance of yourself and don't come home late. I didn't break rules. I feared my grandmother's temper and wrath.

One day my neighbors weren't going to be walking home. My grandmother told me I had to walk home by myself, then she reminded me of the rules and told me to come straight home. I was looking forward to some freedom and thought my dream had come true until she told me to come straight home. Still, I looked forward to walking home all day long.

Finally! School was out I marched out like a trooper making a a bee-line for home using my favorite shortcut. It was hot and I had a jacket to carry but I didn't mind- until I encountered the snake. There was some new home construction happening in a field that was between the school and home. A big king snake had no doubt tried to escape the earth moving equipment only to be hit by a car as he slithered across the road. These were very small lanes with room for only one car at a time and no sidewalks. To my frightened eyes this snake was enormous. It had been stretched out across the road and there was no way for an ophidiphobic child to get around it. I stood in the middle of the street paralyzed with fear and began to cry. I would have been there for days if I hadn't remembered my grandmother's warnings to come straight home.

This memory is as fresh for me as the day it happened some 45 years ago. I was terrified and wanted nothing to do with that snake. I could smell it, I could see it, I knew that if I got anywhere near it it would spring to life and bite me. I also knew that getting home late was not an option. I found myself wishing I had gone home the long way because I would not have encountered the snake. Now the only way for me to get home on time was to step over the snake or turn and go back and take the long way. Getting close to that snake was not an option. I turned and went home the long way, running as if the snake was chasing me.

Hamartology is the study of sin. As I enter into this study of repentance it's important that I look critically at my thoughts about sin. Thomas Watson has this to say:

"A tender heart is ever a trembling heart. The penitent has felt sin's bitterness. This hornet has stung him and now, having hopes that God is reconciled, he is afraid to come near sin any more. The repenting soul is full of fear. he is afraid to lose God's favor, which is better than life. He is afraid he should want for diligence, come short of salvation. He is afraid lest, after his heart has been soft, the waters of repentance should freeze and he should harden in sin again. 'Happy is the man that feareth alway...' (Proverbs 28:14)...A repenting person fears and sins not; a graceless person sins and fears not."

As I read that I thought of the day I walked home. How much better would my life be if I treated sin like I did that snake? If my reverential fear of God compelled me to avoid sin at all costs. If cared less about impressing people and more about obeying my God?

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