Last week I was afforded the opportunity to read an interesting and compelling book entitled “Salvation on Sand Mountain.” The memoir, written by Dennis Covington, was published in 1995 and tells the story of Covington’s journey into and through the legendary snake handling churches of southern Appalachia.
The great interest of the story for me is not the snake handling, the attempts at murder, or the death that occurs in the book, though it was why I purchased the book. The beauty of the book is Covington’s journey from skeptical New York Times reporter, to fellow handler, to church outcast. Covington’s brilliance is the suspense of his story and the wonder of not knowing where he will end up: a snake handling pastor, drunken fool, or better a man. On several occasions in the book I knew what was coming and wanted to duck, scream, and yell as if I was watching the latest ridiculous excuse for a scary movie. It is a fantastic book!
In the book he makes a statement that reached deep within my mind, told me what I was thinking, and reminded me of one of Christianity’s truest truths. It is in the middle of the book as Covington graciously leads the reader in a struggle over the validity of snake handling. Covington, knowing that each reader is justifiably wrestling with the madness of a seemingly sane man handling snakes, writes this,
“My uncle’s death confirmed a suspicion of mine that madness and religion were a hair’s breadth away. My beliefs about the nature of God and man have changed over the years, but that one never has. Feeling after God is dangerous business. And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all.”
Covington’s statement floored me! I immediately reread the statement! Could it be true? Could it be true that snake handling is insanity? Yet equally true that Christianity without risk is madness?
After much mediation, I agree with Covington. Madness and religion are very similar. And for all those who are asking, I do consider snake handling madness. However, Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery is madness as well. The madness of a risk free Christianity is simply that it is false. Like believing in Santa Clause, risk-free Christianity makes for a warm holiday, but leaves one with only the temporary.
Authentic and genuine Christianity is free to receive, but costly to keep. In other words, confessing Christ as Lord and Savior simultaneously opens the door to eternal bliss with Jesus and hell on Earth. I have seen on several occasions a person confess Christ only to have all hell break loose in their lives; family disownment, friend betrayal, financial storm, martial implosion, and of course a church fight! What we mustn’t forget is that in the middle of the ugliest of moments, Christ is at work making all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.