In the Old Testament at times we read of a cruel practice that was derived from the heathen people surrounding Israel. Of Manasseh, king of Judah we learn: “And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom.” (2 Chronicles 33:6/KJV). It is not reported that Manasseh’s children actually were killed by this experience. For sure it was a cruel test to his children.
You may say Manasseh’s children actually were lucky compared to the Children of King Ahab of Israel. The Chronicles report of Ahab that he actually burnt his children. (2 Chronicles 28:3). Regardless of the actual outcome of the exposure of children to fire, this was prohibited by a clear commandment of God: “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire.” (Deuteronomy 18:10a/KJV).
I have been wondering if I could think of anything similar to such extreme tests in our own days. Some practice reported of certain Christian groups came to my mind. They included a ceremony of picking up snakes in their worship service. They wanted to show that whoever really has faith would not be harmed by these creatures. Now unfortunately somebody who took part in this activity died of a snake bite.
They based this practice on Jesus words in Mark 16 concerning the authority his believing disciples would be given: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17+18).
I presume that some people are skilled in dealing with all kinds of animals. Some would know how to deal with even dangerous snakes. Yet others will unwittingly behave in a manner that eludes a bite from these crawling creatures.
Please note that Jesus in the above scripture verses does not encourage a ceremony of picking up snakes in a worship service. Rather he was sending his disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world. On their way they would be exposed to various kinds of dangers. He encourages his disciples to trust in God’s protection as they tread on unknown paths and go to foreign countries.
Also from the story of the Lord being tempted by the devil in the desert I conclude that Jesus would not have wanted such extreme self-tests. The devil asked Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. The devil quoted an Old Testament promise saying: “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Jesus answered this with another verse from the Old Testament: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (cf. Matthew 4:5-7/KJV).
We are not to expose ourselves to immediate dangers just for a show. We are not to tempt God. Rather we ought to focus on the clear commandments of the Lord and on his commission to his disciples to proclaim the gospel to all mankind. (cf. Mark 16:15).
(This post has been written to illustrate St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:3b: “And though I give my body to be burnt and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”)