Serpents also don't talk. But this serpent apparently did. He wasn't much of a serpent was he?
And if this story is literal, where did the talking, walking serpent come from? Did he sneak into the Garden without God knowing it?
The bottom line is that making this symbolic teaching story of Genesis out to be a literal story of creation is so full of holes that every verse can be challenged as to its scientific accuracy and authenticity. This of course reflects poorly upon the scriptures in general, as they lose credibility due to those without spiritual vision attempting to interpret it.
The reality is that this story in Genesis accurately describes our fall from the spiritual realm using allegory and deep symbolism. It is only when we understand its symbolism that we can decode the story and understand its meaning. For an explanation of the full symbolism, see this commentary.
This explains that the talking serpent symbolizes our potential to become envious of God. This is why the symbolic serpent was said to state, as he was trying to convince them to eat the fruit:
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)
This strategy of connecting an idea, thought or event to a symbolic entity is a common form of story-telling, one that we still use today. This is how most children are taught things by their parents (such as the "birds and the bees"). Parents will connect a process or situation with a "fun" creature so the child can slowly digest and understand over time what is trying to be communicated, without all the technical details - which they would likely not understand.
We also find that many spiritual teachers have used symbolic allegory to communicate complex spiritual concepts. Jesus, for example, was famous for teaching using parables, and even said once to his disciples that:
He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'" (Luke 8:10)
Jesus was quoting Isaiah 6:9 in this statement, as Isaiah also communicated that so many people may pretend to listen, but do not really hear what is being taught. Parables tend to filter out those who are not serious.
So what is the meaning of God's statement (above, Gen. 3:14) to the symbolic walking, talking serpent?
This statement by God is the crux of the event. By becoming envious of God, we no longer can retain our loving relationship with God. The pureness of that relationship (symbolized by Adam and Eve's nakedness before eating the symbolic fruit) becomes tainted, and there can no longer be an exchange of love between us and God.
This is common among any relationship. We can't be envious of someone and have a loving relationship with them at the same time. The two emotions are simply not compatible.
Therefore, envy is not compatible with being in the spiritual realm.
The spiritual realm is full of love, humility, kindness, giving, play, laughter, games and so many other events. None of these events are compatible with envy, however. A person who is envious of God - the Supreme Being and the center of attention in the spiritual realm - simply cannot continue to reside in the spiritual world.
God's cursing of the serpent to "crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life" symbolizes the fact that once a person becomes envious of God, and selfishly motivated, we must leave the spiritual world, and this requires us to take on a physical body within the physical world. Thus, "crawl on your belly" symbolizes taking on a physical body, and eating "dust all the days of your life" symbolizes becoming a citizen of the hellish physical world.
"Dust" here is translated from the Hebrew עפר (`aphar), which means, according to the lexicon, "dry earth, dust, powder, ashes, earth, ground, mortar, rubbish." The meaning is clear. Not only are we talking about the physical world here, but it is being described as desolate, burnt and trashy.
This physical world is precisely that. While there is joy, love and play among the loving relationships of the spiritual realm, the physical world is full of war, hatred, violence, crime and greed. Here we are all competing with each other. This physical world is the dark side of existence. While so many worry about going to hell, few realize that this is hell. This is the place where those of us who became self-centered and envious of God were sent to play out our desires to rule over others and attempt to enjoy ourselves.
This hasn't worked out very well. On a worldwide basis we find starvation, disease, drought, and people born into slavery and suffering. Why is this? Why has God permitted so much suffering? Is God a mean God?
What God simply did is programmed the physical world with consequences. This feature makes it so each person must experience - in this life or the next - the results of our activities. Activities that helped the physical bodies or minds of others result in good things happening to our physical bodies or minds, while activities that hurt the physical bodies or minds of others result in a similar suffering to our physical bodies or minds.
It is like looking at a mirror. If we raise our hand as we look in the mirror, the reflection shows a hand raised. This allows us to see what we just did. God programmed the physical world in the same way - our activities are reflected back at us in the form of going through what we put others through.
Thus, we can see that our actions are the cause of the suffering in the physical world. We have caused our own suffering by our previous actions. Each person who now suffers, caused others to suffer previously.
This is meant to teach us. God designed this world with consequences to teach us, just as parents teach children through consequence learning. This form of discipline, by the way, has been found by child researchers to be the most effective way to learn. Why? Because we learn by understanding the consequences of our actions. We learn through experience.
Luckily, no matter how much our physical body might suffer, we are not the physical body. We are spiritual beings temporarily occupying physical bodies - just as a person occupies and drives a car. Therefore, if our body is starving, we are not starving. Our suffering is related to the extent that we identify ourselves as these physical bodies. Once we leave the physical body at the time of death, our connection with it - outside of its lessons and consequences - vanishes.
This physical world is like a virtual classroom. It is meant to gradually teach us that love, kindness, and caring for others is our true nature - and what truly makes us happy. We are not enjoyers by nature. We became envious of God because He is the Enjoyer.
He created us to care for Him and exchange a relationship of love with Him. Thus our natural position is His loving servant, and this is the only thing that will truly fulfill us.
But we must have the choice in order to truly love, so God gave us each a little part of His essence, which contains the desire to enjoy like God. This gives us each the choice to love God or not. For those of us who allowed the "serpent" of envy to gain a foothold in our consciousness, we now need rehabilitation. And that's what the consequence learning system of the physical world gives us.
That is, if we want to return to the spiritual realm. Some of us want to continue ignoring God and ignoring our true nature as spiritual. For those of us, we find all kinds of reasons to convince ourselves that God does not exist. We make all kinds of "scientific" postulations that assume that the universe was created through a big explosion, and everything - including living organisms with the innate ability to love or be envious - was all a big accident. Like a prisoner who believes that jail-time and a life of crime is better than being a law-abiding citizen, God has given each of us the choice to love Him and return to Him, or ignore Him in this prison-like physical world.
Ultimately, by His design, we make the choice. This is because love requires choice – and this prison is the result of our past choices.