Cain Kills 1/4 of the Population; Of Whom Is He Afraid?

The question has been raised over at Storied Theology, and then picked up here, as to the notion that perhaps Adam was not necessarily the first created human, chronologically, but the first in a line of specifically commissioned representatives of God – a precursor of Israel.

Among the initial responses on both blogs has been to raise Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned …”  If in fact Adam was not the first person, but was placed on the earth to righteously govern an already rebellious human race, then how can Paul’s statement to the Romans be true?

I don’t know that I’m quite ready to offer an explanation.  But I do believe that the traditional view, that Adam was actually the first human being, has its own issues that need resolving.  So today I simply present the other side of the catch-22.

The question is simple, and we’ve all encountered it already.  If Adam was the firstborn of humanity, and his initial offspring were Cain and Abel, then of whom is Cain afraid after murdering his brother (Gen 4:14)?  Who is Cain going to run into that might want to take his life?  The narrative implicitly acknowledges other groups of people that Cain may plausibly encounter and fear, requiring the protection of the Lord.

Anyway, that’s the other side of the dilemma.  Have a go.

The First Commission

I can’t resist.  JRD Kirk just posted a blog wondering aloud whether Adam and Eve were really the first created people, launching from a text in the pseudepigraphal Apocalypse of Abraham.  It demonstrates that at least in one stream of Jewish thought, Adam and Eve were not believed to be the first man and woman, but were created in order to assist the Lord in bringing an already wayward creation into alignment.

Frontispiece.

From the basis of the biblical narrative itself, it is evident that not everything is paradise for Adam and Eve, even before the Fall.  In Genesis 1:28, they are commanded to subdue the earth and rule over the creation.  If all was perfect, then what needed to be brought into subjugation?  If all was serene, why the need for governance?  And from where, exactly, did this already rebellious serpent appear in chapter 3?

There is a thread, throughout Scripture, of people who are uniquely called to rule the earth on God’s behalf.  They are chosen, in one way or another, to be in relationship with the Creator, to be shaped by that relationship, and to govern the world in God’s name – to do what God would do if He were physically there.

Interestingly, each one of these figures, whether individually or collectively, receive the title, “son of God.”  It’s true of Israel, as a nation, which was supposed to model for the world the way and the blessings of the true Creator (Exo 4:22-23; Dt 14:1; Isa 43:6; Jer 3:19; 31:9; Hos 1:10; 11:1).  It is true of the kings of Israel, called sons of God because of their role in leading the people of God before the world (2 Sam 7:14).  Of course, Jesus is the perfect son of God because he actually fulfills these roles successfully.  And it is said of all who enter the people of God on the basis of their faith in the Christ (Rom 8:12-21; Eph 1:5; 1 Jn 3:1-2).

And, indeed, Luke calls Adam a son of God at the conclusion to the genealogy of Jesus (3:38).  Adam may not have been the first man created, but he was certainly the first man commissioned to govern on God’s behalf.

Love Cancels Sin

The thought just occurred to me, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Ptr 4:8) because love forges through the great chasm sin creates in a given relationship.

Whatever else sin does, it severs a relationship.  If I were to sin against you by, say, lying to you, I would have provided a legitimate reason for you to forsake our relationship and kick me to the curb.  You would be completely justified in doing so.

But if you were to respond with love, you would push past the gulf between us and resurrect the relationship despite the offense.  The result is that the sin itself is covered – canceled out, in effect.  In love, the relationship is the thing worth protecting at all costs, not the rules.

Son of God = Human

I had a few choice words for the Wellspring Church community yesterday.  Thanks to all for the encouraging words both before and after the message.

Investigating “son of God” language in the Bible really is an interesting endeavor.  Too often, I think most Christians take “son of God” to mean “divine.”  So when we read, for example, Mark’s opening phrase (“The good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God,” 1:1), we immediately intuit that Mark believed Jesus to be God.  Mark, and other New Testament writers may have believed Jesus to effectually be God, but that’s not what “son of God” meant.

Rather, “son of God” was always meant to be the characteristic relationship between all of humanity and the Creator.  Such was the case with Adam, the first man, Israel as a nation, and the kings of Israel, specifically.  Each was to find an intimate connection with their Creator and so model that loving Father to the world.  Such is also the case with every believer today.

What is uniquely remarkable about Jesus, however, is that he actually fulfills this role perfectly.  Where Adam, Israel, and each regent in Jerusalem all failed in their connection with the Father, Jesus succeeded.  This is what he meant when saying in John 14:9 that in seeing Jesus, one has seen the Father.  Jesus so accurately reflected the God with whom he was so intimate, that Jesus’ words and actions were all performed on the Lord’s behalf, as if the Creator Himself were acting or speaking.

The whole point of “son of God” language in Scripture is that it is specifically in reference to humans.  Throughout the Old Testament, the idea is only ever applied to human figures.  The only way, then, that such a role could be fulfilled is through a real, flesh & blood human.

This is the glorious mystery of God’s work on the earth.  If the Lord was ever going to accomplish any of His purposes on the earth, it was going to come through people.  It was the Creator’s intention with the first humans.  It remains His intention among today’s sons and daughters of God.

American Civil Religion in Revelation

As the first Christian century was drawing to a close, a prisoner named John wrote out a mysterious letter, addressed to seven churches in Asia (modern Turkey), warning them of the dangers of America, coming two thousand years hence.

OK.  Not really.  But in Gorman’s third chapter on Revelation (a chapter ostensibly about the purpose of the book) we find a surprisingly lengthy section on the dangers of 21st century American civil religion.  Gorman’s larger point is that Revelation was initially a critique against specifically Roman imperialism and the deification of the state, but certainly the same judgments could be leveled against any empire (or pseudo-empire, or would-be empire) in any place or any age.

via wikipedia.org

I don’t mind Gorman’s critique of American civil religion.  It’s actually less a critique and more an identification with a knowing glance.  Though I would argue with him on a few points (his definition of American exceptionalism, for one), the overall issue is well-taken.  Be careful how you mix, whether consciously or not, nationalism and faith.  My issue with Gorman here is probably more an issue with his editor.  Paralleling the United States with Rome would probably serve well as its own chapter (at least) rather than a section of a chapter about the form and structure of Revelation.

Anyway, here’s a brief rundown of the places Gorman points to as marks of American civil religion.  Each of these, he implicitly suggests, has the potential to draw American believers away from true fidelity to Christ.  Each has the potential to draw us towards the worship of something that is quite unlike the God of Scripture, the God of the cross.  Take a look and tell me what you think.  Are these legitimate dangers?  Are there others?  What’s your experience been?

  • Manifest Destiny (this I think Gorman confuses slightly with American exceptionalism)
  • American messianism (that America is somehow the savior of various underprivileged peoples around the world)
  • American innocence (that we are somehow always the injured, pure party)
  • The elevation of human liberty and rights
  • Militarism and sacred violence (that all our military action is righteous)
  • The flag as a sacred object
  • National flags inside churches
  • Various national holidays (Memorial Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc)
  • National days of prayer
  • The Pledge of Allegiance (including its reference to “one nation, under G(g)od”)
  • Swearing on the Bible
  • “God bless America”
  • Sacred national texts (the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, etc)
  • Congressional & military chaplains

The list goes on, but that’s enough for now.  Your thoughts?

Finally, Some Sanity!

Tom Hanks and the girl from "Amalie" go looking for secrets that never existed. Hat tip - Amazon.com

There is little in life more refreshing than hearing a level-headed perspective on an issue that most often invites craziness.  So reading the second chapter of Michael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly is feeling a bit like an afternoon spent reclining at the beach with an ice-cold Corona in your hand.  OK, so not quite.  But you get the idea.

Some folks get so worked up about the book of Revelation, reading it as though it were a cryptic road map to the end of the space-time continuum (as if anyone actually knew what that even meant).  As if John were locked up in his cell on Patmos hoping that one day his book would lead Tom Hanks to the bowels of the Louvre.  Sorry, am I confusing my ancient documents?  Whatever.  You get the idea.  John’s vision had a purpose for his own day and age that would have made sense to his audience.  We may benefit from Revelation, but it wasn’t originally written for us, like some cypher for determining a great and horrible future.

So, who’s ready for some doses of sanity?

On the basic function of apocalyptic literature (of which Revelation is an example):

To sustain the people of God, especially in times of crisis, particularly evil and oppression.  Apocalyptic literature both expresses and creates hope by offering scathing critique of the oppressors, passionate exhortations to defiance (and sometimes even preparation for confrontation), and unfailing confidence in God’s ultimate defeat of the present evil (15).

On Revelation as prophecy:

Prophecy, in the biblical tradition, is not exclusively or even primarily about making pronouncements and predictions concerning the future.  Rather, prophecy is speaking words of comfort and/or challenge, on behalf of God, to the people of God in their concrete historical situation (23).

Whatever the reader makes of the bizarre imagery of the book, the reader must first be grounded on this point: Revelation is intended to encourage oppressed believers with the true strength and goodness of God and to challenge believers who have wandered from honest worship of the Creator.

Up next, chapter 3, in which John foresees the Illuminati plotting the worldwide takeover of the Roman Catholic Church, whose pope may or may not be the antichrist.

I’m Not the Only One Who Doesn’t Get Revelation

I just now started Michael J. Gorman’s new book, Reading Revelation Responsibly, and I’m pretty stoked.  For so long, I’ve more or less avoided Revelation, not least because so many seem to deal with it irresponsibly.  My mentality has been, I’ll stick with what’s more clear in the Bible.

This is the very mentality that Gorman seeks to address and alleviate.  He immediately acknowledges the dangers and the wackos out there and promises a better way.

His introduction doesn’t say a whole lot more than just to clear the air and acknowledge everyone’s fears.  But he does include some wonderful quotes from the history of interpretation of Revelation.  These were my favorites from page one.

“Neither apostolic nor prophetic. … I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced [Revelation]. … Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. … Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” – Martin Luther

Revelation is “a book of riddles that requires a Revelation to explain it.” – Thomas Paine

Let the adventure begin!