Once I talked about this with a pastor who is from the Appalachian region of Virginia.
"We've got snake handlers up where I'm from," he said.
"Really?" I asked.
"Yep, we've lost two preachers to snake-bites."
If you're not familiar with "snake handlers," they are Christians who interpret Mark 16:17-18 to mean that they should show their faith by handling venomous snakes in their worship services. Often accompanied by loud, rhythmic music, they have been known to put rattlesnakes and copperheads on their heads, wrap them around their necks, tread on them with bare feet, or toss them to other worshipers, to see who has the Holy Ghost.
The pastor from Virginia proceeded to tell me that one funeral director in his area went to conduct a funeral at a church, and the members told him he needed to get up from his seat, because the box of snakes was under his pew. At that moment the funeral director realized he was in a "snake handling" church. I don't think it took him long to move out of their way.
The church member reached into the box, grabbed a snake to hand to another fellow, and then grabbed a second one for himself. He told the funeral director that he was going to put one of the snakes in the casket with the deceased. The funeral director said, "Then you be sure that you close the casket yourself."
This story reminds me of an experience that Jesus had with the devil. Satan was tempting Jesus to perform a great miracle to show off his faith, by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. Satan even quoted scripture to justify this act, saying Psalm 91 promised that the angels would catch him before he hit the ground. Jesus' reply was to quote Deuteronomy 6:16, saying, "It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God." (Matthew 4:7)It's not our place to tell God how to work. It's our job to listen to God tell us how to work. So if somebody tells you to prove your faith with some daring action, or if they tell you to test God's will by telling God what hoops to jump through and telling God what deadline he has to do it, remember the snake handlers. If you're going to test God like that, then be sure that you close your casket yourself.
Copyright 2010 by Bob Rogers.