Humanity Tumbled: Violence Entered the World

East of Eden death lies ahead for everyone in Genesis except Enoch. It seems we’ve already hit rock bottom with nowhere to go but into the grave.

Death isn’t good, but it isn’t the whole story. There is more to this picture. Things can get worse. Some things are worse than death.

Sin is worse than death. This word was not used to describe what happened in Eden. The word sin first appears when God confronts Cain about his anger.

Cain is angry with God and envious of his brother because God did not accept his offering from the produce of his crops though he did accept Abel’s offering from the flock. We don’t know for certain why God didn’t accept it. Whatever the reason, Cain’s anger puts him at risk. “Sin,” God says, “is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Sin, like a predator, stalks our hearts. It is an indwelling alien power. Sin wants to take hold of us, enslave us, and render us powerless. Sin wants to dominate, even devour, us. We all sense this; it is why we sometimes do things we don’t want to do and perhaps never thought we would actually do.

When sin overpowers, we lose sight of God’s purposes. We miss the mark. We fail to image or represent God in the creation. Sin turns our purpose and vocation toward something or someone other than God.

Sin makes things worse. Cain moved from anger to violence because sin mastered him. When anger is conceived, it gives birth to violence. Jesus understood this. Whoever is angry with another, he said, has already committed murder. Sin erupted in violence when Cain’s angry heart lashed out at Abel, whose name means futility or nothingness. Cain made his brother’s name come to life when he killed him. In the wake of Abel’s murder, frustration and futility hovered over life east of Eden.

Violence breeds violence. Cain feared this. He thought others might take matters into their own hands and kill him. His fear recognizes the inner dynamic of violence. Fueled by anger and generating fear, violence has no stopping point.

Yet, hope is always present within God’s good creation though it sometimes dims beyond recognition. We heard hope when Eve gave birth to Cain and gave him a name which expressed vitality and life. She blessed God with her confession, “I have created a man with the help of the Lord.”

Adam and Eve were not bound over to evil by their exclusion from Eden. By the grace of God, they bore children, raised crops, herded flocks, and worshipped the Lord. God did not remove grace from the creation. The Lord did not execute Cain but protected him; the Lord showed mercy. God’s blessing continued, even in Cain whose marriage produced children, and Cain built a city. Though living east of Eden, God’s purposes for the world were still at work, and humanity not only multiplied but also created music, smelted metals, and built cities. Cain’s violence did not end the story any more than Adam and Eve’s immature choice did. The story continued, and God continued to pursue them.

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