Serpent in Paradise

Why was there a serpent in paradise?

That’s the question that popped into my mind this morning while I was writing in my journal. I’d been documenting some problems at work, noting not only what has happened but also how I felt about it and my brothers’ advice. Suddenly, there was that question.

The situation at work upsets and alarms me. An employee who is failing to do the work assigned to his shift has begun threatening me. He doesn’t know that until now, I have stood between him and the door. When the manager was talking about firing him, I suggested retraining and closer supervision instead. Needless to say, at this point, I am regretting that.

The employee, instead of being grateful he’s still employed, has become hostile because we expect him to work instead of read while on the clock. He began, on the night he was told he would be retrained, to bully me, telling me that nobody liked me, that I had no people skills, that I had no business working at a job involving people, that I should quit. About the third night I heard this, I told him he had no business accepting a paycheck from an employer if he wasn’t going too do the work for which he was being paid.

Since then, the verbal assaults have escalated. When I told him to stock the beer cooler, he threatened to go to the owner with all of his co-workers and demand that I be fired. When I told him the floor wasn’t properly mopped, he threatened legal action, saying I was creating a hostile work environment. He went on to write  the manager a note about my “foul attitude and harrassment.”

With the most recent attack, I felt in danger physically even though he didn’t actually threaten to strike me. The extreme response to what was an appropriate evaluative remark from a supervisor, though, set off warning bells. “This man,” something inside me said, “is an abuser nearly at the breaking point, watch out.”

I didn’t say a word in his response to his vitriolic tirade, but I did notify the manager. The manager just laughed — not at me, but to indicate it wasn’t anything about which I needed to be concerned. I am concerned, though; the disproportionate response to a normal workplace remark terrifies me.

I have been around abusive people. I know that when an abusive person is ready to snap, provocation is totally unnecessary. An abusive person will find an excuse to strike out at the selected victim — and the victim is selected. An abusive person doesn’t lash out randomly, like an angry person who snaps at everyone and anyone. An abusive person will often be charming and even professional with everyone except the selected victim. The abusive person will collect all the little frustrations and irritations life offers and unleash his response on one person.

I am afraid of being that person with this man. I was writing about these feelings in my journal this morning, and noted that fear has slipped into my consciousness like the serpent in paradise. Suddenly, my mind was off on a tangent. Why was there a serpent in paradise?

God creates right and left in the first book of Genesis, declaring what he has made to be good. Then he creates man and woman for one another,  placing them in the Garden — with an enticing serpent. I’ve often wondered if the serpent was incredibly beautiful — Whitney Otto writes in the novel, “How to Make an American Quilt,” that beauty makes us want to listen — or if Adam was the strong, silent type and Eve was just lonely for conversation. Really, why talk to a serpent?

But, this morning, the question changed. Why was there a serpent in paradise?

I’ve heard — I’m thinking this came out of Anthony Hopkins’ mouth when he portrayed C.S. Lewis in “The Shadowlands”  — that God wants us to grow up, that he allows suffering so that we can grow up. I suppose that answer would make as much sense as any other in response to my question. We do, after all, learn from experience.

In Adam and Eve’s case, the learning curve must have been rather steep. One day they were in paradise; the next they were on their own.

Maybe the answer is a little subtler and a little deeper than that. Maybe God wants us to grow up AND as we grow up, to develop fully into individuals created in his image and likeness — individuals who are creative, as God is creative, and capable of building community. After all, Adam and Eve ran around naked as a jaybird — a 20th Century idiom, which replaced the 19th Century idiom, naked as a robin, both of which are strange since birds have feathers — until the serpent entered into their lives. Then the spark of creativity which God placed in them lit the fire of their imaginations and they clothed themselves.

If I am going to theorize in that direction, I must ask myself this question: why this serpent at this time in my life? Why this fear of this man at this juncture? How can I grow more fully into the image of God in this situation? What is God attempting to spark in me?

I wish those were rhetorical questions. They aren’t. I don’t know the answers. I will have to live my way into them. But, oddly enough, just knowing God is at work in this in some way comforts me. That has to be a good starting point.