My Grievance Against God: Snakes :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions
By Savannah McPhail

My Grievance Against God: Snakes

One summer day many years ago, my family and I set out on a little piece of the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. A few minutes later my three-year-old sister screamed. I looked down. “Rattlesnake!” It had bitten her.

All our years roughing it in tropical Cambodia as missionaries—and it was on furlough in the dangerous wilds of the United States of America that we had our first snaky escapade. There is a good story here—what with the rattlesnake’s subsequent demise, the ambulance, and the helicopter—but for the purpose of this narrative it is enough to say that my little sister recovered and I went forward with a healthy dread of snakes.

Then, about two years later came the Day. Spin the globe. Now my family and I were spending some time in Thailand. I was maybe fifteen years old. I was standing near the front door of the two-story house, doing what, I cannot remember, when a great long snake fell out of a tree right next to the little porch. I practically flew up the stairs.

My dad and an experienced Jack Russell terrier named “Princess” went after it. I watched in terror from an upstairs window as they pursued the snake across the yard. I was praying, almost like a chant, “Please, God, keep Dad safe; please, God, keep him safe!” In the end with the terrier tugging on the snake and keeping it from escaping down its hole, my dad chopped it in half with a hoe, and the adventure was over.

That afternoon, we went to the park. The park encircled a pretty lake, and there were steps that led down to the water. I liked to sit there and stare out at the view. So that day I went to my favorite spot and sat down on the warm step. A few moments later for what reason I do not know, I looked to my right. Inches away from my hand, right next to me on the step, coiled a serpent. I left. I was a little upset.


We got into the car and headed back to the house. I stared out the window, my mind racing with the injustice of these circumstances. Not one, but two snakes? In one day? Then, as if this were some form of hideous, sadistic joke, I raised my eyes and looked through the open door of a repair shop. One side of the door sat a dog. On the other side with its great yellow head raised in the air, slithered a python, its evil, unblinking stare fixed on the dog. I saw it all in a single flash, and then the car was past.

When we got to the house, I went straight upstairs. I shut the door to my room and sank to the floor. I was crying hot, angry tears—three snakes in one day! Three snakes. Three! Why? Why was God doing this to me? How could He? He knew I hated snakes, and He deliberately sent three into my path! It was a betrayal. A personal attack. I raged against Him. Why, why, why?

Over and over the scenes played in my head, branding themselves into my mind–the snake falling from the tree, the snake on the step, the snake menacing the dog. And then back to Tennessee and that first snake, the one that hurt my little sister. Snakes! Snakes! Snakes! Evil, coiling, cold-blooded, snakes! I hated them, and I wanted to annihilate them from the earth.

I was crying from fear and rage, rage and hurt against God, God who had done this to me, who was doing this to me. How could He? How could He do this? I could not eat that night. I was too eaten up with anger. I went to bed and entered a night of horror. All my dreams were nightmares, and in every nightmare there were snakes, chasing me, biting the people I loved.


In the morning I woke changed, though I did not know it yet. The next time I tried to walk on a trail, it happened. My breathing quickened, and I could not stop it. My hands shook. My heart raced. Tears threatened out of nowhere. All the trees and undergrowth seemed to be closing in around me. No amount of logic or reason could shake the fear.

Eight years passed. I never knew if I would be able to face a hike or a trail without panicking. The pain of that day, the Day of Snakes, became so old and familiar that I almost forgot about it until I recently re-read the book Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. In this unusual story a bitter woman recounts her life story, outlining her complaint against “the gods.” But in the telling, her eyes are opened, and she realizes that her narrow interpretation of the events reveals more about herself than about the gods.

I finished this story and spent some time mulling over the themes and appreciating C. S. Lewis’ wisdom. I wondered vaguely if there was anything in my life that I was misinterpreting and holding against God. Strangely enough, God directed me to that one day in my distant memory. I puzzled over it. How could the appearance of three snakes possibly be interpreted differently? I could not believe it was coincidence. One snake, maybe. Two would be stretching it. But three? God had to have deliberately sent them, and I could not understand why.

My theology said that God was good, so He had to have a reason. And I was supposed to be ok with that reason, but I hadn’t been. Then God seemed to nudge me with a quiet thought. “Do you not trust me?” I found that I did. I knew God a bit better now than when I was fifteen, but I said, “I cannot understand how that was good for me. It was not only what happened that day, but the years of slavery to this fear that came after.” God then prompted me with a strange question: “What really happened that day?”


My memory responded, but now it did a strange thing. It retold the events, not as I had long remembered them, but as it were, from God’s perspective. The day began not with the snake falling from the tree, but with me pleading with God at the upstairs window. A detail I had all but forgotten about on that snake-ridden day. “Please keep Dad safe,” I had asked. And God had kept Dad safe. There I had been, scared and afraid of the danger a snake could bring, and God had shown Himself strong to keep Dad safe. Had I ever thanked Him?

Then my memory brought me to the park. “But–” I began to protest. Had I not been safe there as well? Was I not as safe as in the most secure fortress, sitting next to that snake? What sixth sense was it that had made me look round? And the python menacing the dog. Had I not learned afterwards that the python was a pet? The dog had never been in any danger at all. And wonder of wonders, the day was all turned on its head. Rather than three dangers, there were three assurances: God could keep my father safe from a snake. God could keep me safe from a snake. And in case I was not quite clear on this—an object lesson. God could keep a dog safe from a snake.

Like a kind father God was showing me that He could and would keep me safe from the thing I feared and that I did not need to be afraid. I foolishly had missed His point entirely. I had been fixated on the mere presence of the things I feared and raged at God for failing to shield me from them completely. And so, with a kind of wonder, I thanked God (and it was long in coming) for His protection and let go of a grudge I hardly knew I had been carrying.

A few weeks later at a park in Greenville, South Carolina, I ran into a brightly colored snake on a stone step. It raised his head in the air and looked at me, then slithered away into a hole. Is it crazy to think that it was kind of cute?