The Sin of Sodom

Dealing with times of God’s judgment relayed in the Bible is difficult business. There seem to be some who want to interpret these stories as having the potential to happen anytime for even the slightest infractions. Some want to dismiss them as being too disconnected from the message of Jesus to be too useful. Most of the time though, I feel that we just ignore them and hope they go away or that someone doesn’t shed any light on these passages.

A lot of the issue, at least in my understanding, stems from a conflict between the ideas of God as love and God as judge. If God is love and loves human beings, how does that not conflict with God’s judgment that sometimes takes human lives? This kind of conflict is what makes passages like the one I’m going to look at today so difficult. The passage we’ll be looking at is Genesis 19 which is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Last week we saw God speaking with Abraham about the upcoming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this story we see the details of what goes on before its destruction. We see Lot sitting at the gate of the city when two of the angels/men who were with Abraham last chapter enter the city. Lot insists they stay at his house instead of spending the night in the town square as they planned.

However, all the men of the city come out and surround Lot’s house. They call for him to give up the two men to them, so they may “know” them, which is often a way to refer to sexual acts. Now it’s at this point where I think we need to step back and ask, what is the nature of Sodom’s sin?

A popular view is that the sin that led to Sodom’s destruction is homosexuality. While that makes for a convenient weapon to fight with in the wars going on around that issue, the truth is that the sins of Sodom might be broader than that. As Walter Brueggemann puts it, “…the Bible gives considerable evidence that the sin of Sodom was not specifically sexual, but a general disorder of a society organized against God.” While I agree with Brueggemann that, “It may be that sexual disorder is one aspect of a general disorder,” to isolate any specific issue out of this is sloppy work.

I think this can be seen just by looking at the context of this chapter. When God spoke to Abraham of the judgment on Sodom, it was due to hearing an outcry against the city, as well as Gomorrah. In other words Sodom and Gomorrah seem to have been creating victims on a consistent enough basis to warrant judgment because of the outcry against them.

While Genesis 19 may have been an example of how that victimization looked, it may not have been the only way.  To reduce this down to homosexuality, seems to be ignoring the mob’s intention to victimize those who they should be hospitable and welcoming to, like Lot is exemplifying. Would the mob’s actions be perfectly fine if the angels had taken the form of women? If you answer no to that, then the problems are something much broader than the way some would like to treat this passage.

The idea that this victimization of travelers (if it is even only contained to travelers) has been recurring may have been evident in the actions of Lot himself. He is sitting at the gate of the city. Maybe this is simply due to chance, but I wonder if it could have been intentional.

Could this have been his way to save people from the victimization that has been going on? He seems rather adamant to have the men stay at his house instead of the town square. This could just be his desire to be hospitable, but it could also be due to a knowledge of what may happen to these men if they stay out in public. There isn’t any way to know this for certain, but it certainly doesn’t seem too far-fetched to consider this possible.

Now it doesn’t really seem that Lot’s efforts here are going to work. If it weren’t for the actions of the men/angels he would have simply added himself to the victim list, and seemed quite willing to add his daughters to it as well. It is this kind of attitude and environment that is bringing the judgment of God upon these people. Even when stopped before doing something wicked, they do not flinch from it in the least but continue in it and scoff against anyone who would judge them.

So does this still warrant God’s judgment? To some that may be an illegitimate question. God is above us and who do we think we are to question his judgment, I get that train of thought and honestly, to some degree, believe it myself. However, with so many people who struggle with this kind of thing, it is worth asking the question in honest.

I think my biggest conundrum is this. Could there be times where God withholding judgment could reap more negative consequences than God actually passing judgment? Take this example. It seems that Sodom had been producing victims of some sort and that God heard the outcry against the actions perpetrated by these people. If God did nothing to stop this would that make it better? I’m not really thinking it would.

I still don’t have everything figured out about how God’s judgment works and especially how it works in conjunction with God’s love and mercy. However, what I do know is that love and mercy isn’t just overlooking victims and the real pain that has happened to them. I have to ultimately trust more in God’s ability to know when to judge and show mercy than by my ability to understand it.

In some ways I feel like Lot in this story. I know enough to know what Sodom is doing is wrong, but he’s not untainted by wickedness and his judgment on things aren’t the best. He tries to offer his daughters up to the mob, which to me is just as bad as offering the strangers. He becomes paranoid in Zoar and gets drunk and sleeps with both of his daughters. While I obviously have not done these exact things, the idea is that we can be a mix of both good judgment and poor judgment at the same time. Lot appeared to know that what the city of Sodom was doing was wrong, but had his own blind spots. His judgment was imperfect.

To me the only one capable of perfect judgment, perfect mercy, and perfect love is God. In our blind spots we may not recognize that at times, but that is ultimately what I trust in. I may not have everything worked out and I will act accordingly in that, but I will trust that God does. It’s about all I can do.

Debating Destruction

I know I’ve missed a couple weeks in my progress through Genesis. I’m hoping that I can get back on track and be more consistent on it, but getting this out will at least be progress in the right direction.

I was last going through Genesis 18:1-15, where Sarah is informed of how she will soon have a son. Coming out of this passage, we move away from the story of Abraham and Sarah’s son for a bit. Within Genesis 18:16-33, the focus begins to shift towards the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for a couple chapters.

It’s an interesting passage for sure. We start things off with what appears to God’s inner monologue. The men (who are connected to and referred to as God) are getting ready to leave and God wonders if Abraham should be made known of the plans in store for Sodom and Gomorrah. Here we have a reiteration of how Abraham will be a great nation and how all nations will be blessed through him. All this is because God has chosen him and that because of that Abraham will seek for his children to follow the way of the Lord.

God must convince himself to let Abraham in on the plan. I’m struck though that God puts this whole situation in a very strange manner. God speaks of hearing an outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. God is going to investigate this outcry and see if it is deserved or not. This seems strange, because often our idea is that God knows all.

Does God personally verify any claim of wickedness before passing judgment? Is this just an extension of God’s mercy to go and try to experience this wickedness firsthand? What’s going on? I wish I had a solid answer, but I’m fairly sure that God knows whether the claims of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah are accurate or not.

In response to this news, Abraham begins to debate a bit with God. He wants to know if God would still destroy the city if there were fifty righteous people amid the wicked. God says that he would spare the city if there were fifty. Abraham continues all the way down to ten people and God confirms each time that he would spare the city even if there were only ten righteous there.

This whole exchange is just rather interesting. We see Abraham fulfilling, at least partially, what God spoke of at the beginning of this passage. That Abraham would be a blessing to the nations. Abraham is wanting to make sure the righteous are not being punished alongside the wicked, because that would be wrong on God’s part.

I’ve typically taken this passage, and still do, as Abraham’s concern bringing this up to God, but God already being on the same page. God agrees with little hesitation or qualification to Abraham’s hypothetical situations. God agrees that if there is even ten people who are righteous in the city it will not be destroyed. Despite Abraham’s questioning God does not seem taken off guard or indignant at this line of questioning. This back and forth only seems to highlight the justice and mercy of God, how the righteousness of few can protect the many, and as will be seen in chapter 19, the pervasive wickedness of Sodom.

In reading up for this post though I ran across another thought from Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis. While it failed to convince me, I will admit that it was interesting. This position was that Abraham was acting as a teacher to God, and presenting to God, for the first time apparently, that God should not simply destroy the wicked if there were righteous among them. The thing is I’m just not sure that it jives with what comes before and after, even if this is a later story (as Brueggemann believes), I still think we need to take the story as it is in the final form.

Even within Brueggemann’s own framework of God bringing Abraham and Sarah’s barrenness and offering an alternative way of life (in more than one way), it doesn’t seem to fit. God has been the one trying to get Abraham to have faith in the way that God is doing things. This seems to be another one of those times, only with Abraham actually speaking God’s heart a bit more than usual.

Abraham has been so slow to catch on to what God is doing and how God operates, that it seems unlikely that Abraham is getting  a leg up here and instructing God. Abraham seems to understand that if God punished the righteous then He wouldn’t be God, but how does he really know this unless he is basing it off of what he knows about God in the first place? Other religions didn’t always make that claim, so it’s not like we’re dealing with a universal concept of God or anything.

Even then, Abraham’s questions here could be just as much from the same type of doubt he has displayed regarding God’s promises to him. He has had trouble wrapping his head around God’s promise of an heir. I don’t think it is too far out there to think that he is stuck in a similar conundrum here, He knows the goodness, mercy, and justice of God, but perhaps doubts that Sodom could be that bad and that there is nobody worth saving there (I know those are so often my thoughts on issues like this). So he questions God to make sure he understands God’s heart in the matter.

Yet all of this serves to stress, at least in my opinion, that God is not doing this act of judgment lightly. There has been an outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, which I would assume comes from victims of their wickedness, and God is investigating it using these two men he is sending there. He even agrees that if there were ten people in the city who were righteous that he would spare the city. Then before the judgment we see the messengers of God take Lot and his family out of the city, not based on their own righteousness, but because God remembered Abraham (Gen 19:29).

Now even though that is my conclusion, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have this whole judgment thing figured out. It makes me uncomfortable either way. I’m a bit uncomfortable jettisoning judgment, because there are those out there who are simply out to hurt other people and make victims, some of which wear the label Christian. I think turning a blind eye to that is not good at any level.

Yet, at the same time I’m a bit uncomfortable with judgment too. I rely on grace and mercy because I mess up and hurt people too. I want to be able to extend that love, grace, and mercy to others. So I live in this tension, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Even if it is coming out of some doubts about how God does things, I think we need more people to ask the questions Abraham does here. Instead of delighting in judgment or being quick to proclaim any natural disaster or human attack as God’s judgment, maybe we need hearts that care about the ones who don’t deserve this getting mixed up in it. Hearts that even seek repentance for those who do, all while trusting in the God of the universe as a just judge– which is sometimes the hardest thing of all.

Faith That Is Easier To Know Than Live

When one goes to school to study theology and the Bible it is easy to begin to make Bible reading and study about getting the right things from the chapter or verses that you’re reading. Of course this isn’t limited to seminary graduates or any kind of Bible major. All it takes is a good amount of time in any church or studying the Bible, and it is easier to focus on being right than it is to actually live based on that knowledge.

I’ve been faced with this lately. As I’ve been blogging through the book of Genesis I’ve been hitting a lot of chapters and passages that seem to be about God’s faithfulness drawn out of Abraham’s story. The idea that God is faithful, is not original in the least nor is it all that controversial of a thought. Despite this, I’ve been struggling with these passages or at least the conclusions regarding God’s faithfulness and our need for trust in him even during struggles in our lives.

It is one thing to know this and to present it as what a passage is about, it is another thing to live it out. To know that faith is hard in the midst of struggles. I say, and believe, that God is faithful on one hand, but struggle with that reality as I watch a loved one struggle with health issue after health issue.

To see God’s faithfulness in the midst of life’s struggles. That is one of the hardest aspects of faith. I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with that. I mean even in the chapters that I’ve been going through in Genesis, Abraham sure seems to have a hard time trusting in God, keeping his own fear under control, and believing that this God he has decided to follow is ultimately going to do what was promised.

When life gets hard it is so easy to wonder where God is in all of this. How is this struggle a sign of God’s faithfulness? How does cancer and illness and seemingly senseless death jive with a faithful God? I don’t feel I have a satisfactory answer to that question.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m somehow losing faith. I still believe in God, but I don’t feel I have the answers as to why bad things happen. I guess my point in all this is that sometimes when we talk about faith in God or Jesus or about stories in the Bible it is easy to disconnect it from the everyday experiences that we have.

I’m not simply talking about failing to provide some type of practical application from a passage. What I’m talking about is saying something like “God is faithful,” but failing to understand that for some people God’s faithfulness seems to be lacking in their lives or the lives of one of their loved ones. It can too easily sound like God will never let anything bad happen, and clearly that’s not what it’s about.

I believe that God is good and that God is faithful. I also struggle to know what that exactly means and how to process that truth when life produces sorrow. I feel like Abraham telling God, “what good thing can you give to me,” because it certainly doesn’t seem like you’re giving too much good right now.

I simply say all of this because I do believe that our faith needs to express the doubt and struggles we face. I’m not being truthful with God or anyone else for that matter by pretending that the struggles of life don’t make me question what God is up to. I’ll probably never know for certain what God is up to in the circumstances that lead to sorrow, but I still have faith. I believe that God is faithful even when I don’t know exactly what that will look like.

 

 

So There’s This Story About a Flood

I’ll be honest, I’ve had some trouble figuring out how to approach a story like the flood. You can get bogged down in the arguments over if it really happened or not. Then if it really happened was it a local flood or a worldwide flood. These are interesting avenues and I’m not saying that they aren’t important, but I guess I don’t want to waste my time trying to wade into that.

The best idea I’ve had is to look at what I think some themes and issues are in the story and what point it is trying to make. This, I would imagine, should be important to anyone reading it regardless of it being a symbolic story or factual truth. Even this way it is difficult, but it seems like it would be more fruitful. So let’s take a look at Genesis 6:14-8:19 and see what’s going on here.

What makes the flood story so hard, at least in my opinion, is related to what I talked about last time. It’s a story about judgment and obedience. Such stories can make us uncomfortable. It often seems to me that you get people who love talking about God’s judgment and our need for obedience or you have people who want to avoid it at all costs.

I don’t know that I love talking about God’s judgment and obedience, but that is not hard to find in the flood story. God sends a flood in judgment for the wickedness of humanity. Noah, however, has gained God’s favor and is saved. As we follow Noah’s story we see him following the details of what God tells him to do without deviation. The question really becomes one of how are we going to use this story today?

For some it seems the story of the flood is simply a picture of why we need to be obedient to God. If we are disobedient and wicked then God will send calamity to punish us. I’m not so sure this is what we’re supposed to take from the story. This leads to us trying to pin God to any tragedy that happens in the world and then coming up with some reason that it happened. I’m sure we can all come up with an instance where this has happened.

Usually in these cases we set ourselves up as the ones who are like Noah and the rest of the world as wicked. I’m really not sure this is healthy. After all it wasn’t Noah who decided that he had God’s favor, that was up to God. It wasn’t Noah who decided that the rest of the world was to be flooded because it was wicked, it was God. So when we decide that we’re the ones with God’s favor and whoever else is the wicked, then I think we’re giving ourselves far more authority than we should.

This is not to say that God doesn’t judge. As I said we clearly see it here, and it’s a theme that continues through to Jesus and even the final book of the Bible. I just think that it is a theme we need to approach carefully and not carelessly. The same goes for obedience.

Noah was clearly obedient to God here, but again it is something to be careful about. Was Noah’s obedience moral or practical here? I mean most of the instances are simply waiting on God for instructions on what to do to survive the flood. There may be a moral aspect to listening and obeying God, but the areas of obedience were largely practical. So does it compare well to using it today for morality?

Even if you’d answer yes I think there are other questions that arise. Are we better than others simply because we obey certain things? Does that automatically mean we’re following God more? Do bad things happen only because we disobey? Do the nuts and bolts of our disobedience or obedience matter more than our desire to follow after God?

These aren’t questions answered in the flood narrative, but I think they can be raised. I think there are answers elsewhere in the Bible for these questions, but the flood narrative doesn’t give us those. We see this mix of evil, judgment, and obedience when we’re told about the flood. It’s tempting to codify it or turn it into a formula, but that may raise more problems than solve them.

What do you think? Do you have any of these conflicting thoughts regarding the flood story? How do you deal with them if you do?

 

 

 

Wickedness, Righteousness, Destruction, and How it All Fits Together

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these posts about Genesis. Last time I looked at the idea that Genesis 6:1-4 may not really be part of the reason why the flood took place. So in my post for today we’re going to be looking at Genesis 6:5-13. Here we’re given a direct reason for the flood, although even here we’re not dealing with too many specifics.

Here we see God looking over his creation and finding that every inclination of the human heart was evil. This fact causes God to regret making mankind and describes how he is grieved, troubled, or even in pain as John H. Sailhamer renders it in his commentary on Genesis for the Expositors Bible Commentary series. This passage always seems to create some discussion.

Such discussion tends to revolve around questions like the following. How can God regret? Doesn’t this go against the idea that God always the same and can’t change his mind? How can God regret his creation of humans and subsequently decide to destroy his entire creation because of their wickedness?

I don’t entirely know how to answer all these questions. I don’t necessarily find answers that deny the events of the passage or simply saying that God can do whatever he pleases particularly helpful. To be honest I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea that God regrets that his creation is saturated in wickedness than I am with the idea of Him sending a flood to destroy all of them.

To me a God who is able to feel regret and pain due to our sin, rebellion, and wickedness is one who cares about us and has an investment. At the same time destroying humanity because of that wickedness seems an odd way to show you care. This aspect of the story of Noah always seems to be overlooked or rushed by a bit fast.

In the popular children’s version of Noah all we’re typically given is that there was a flood, God told Noah to build a boat, so Noah built a boat and there are lots of nice animals on the boat getting saved from the flood. For some reason the purpose of the flood is usually neglected in this telling. God just seemed to think it was a good time for a flood or something and decided that Noah should be saved as well as two of each type of animal.

Even in the more serious treatments of the flood we tend to move a bit too quickly past this whole setup and say as Sailhamer does that, “The central themes… in these opening verses are God’s judgment of man’s wickedness and his gracious salvation of the righteous…” While I don’t necessarily disagree with this assessment, it just seems so casual. Yeah there’s judgment, but they deserve it and then we’re on to Noah.

It’s at this point where I don’t entirely know how to progress. For one there is a tension in this passage that isn’t easy for me to diffuse. I mean a few chapters ago when Cain killed Abel we didn’t see God act with swift justice, but grace. He even put a mark of protection on Cain. Yes, God did exile Cain, but his wickedness could have warranted death if we take what’s written later in the Old Testament or even Genesis into account. So we see grace with Cain, but here with the nameless multitude of the wicked we do not see that grace given to them, it is only given to Noah and his family, because of the favor Noah found in God’s eyes.

The second is that no matter which way you move on this passage it is troublesome. If you think that the flood happened the way that it is told then God was involved in sending a flood (be it world-wide or local but I’m not even going to get into that) because of the wickedness of mankind. To some this is one of the events of the Bible that turns God into some violent monster. You can’t really believe that this happened, after all look at Jesus and what he preached and how he lived. Jesus was the greatest revelation of God, so this stuff can’t be right.

It’s a tempting line of thought for me, but there is a tension between grace and this justice even within the first six chapters of Genesis, you don’t even have to get to Jesus. Sure he may up the ante quite a little, but I also don’t remember seeing Jesus saying, “You know the Torah that you believe in? Yeah, most of that you just made up.”

Instead most of the time I see him affirming what would have been the holy scriptures of his day, which would have been our Old Testament and the half of the Bible we have the most trouble with. He made laws apply to the heart just as much as the actions, he tweaked the way that interpretations of the law had been made, but Jesus never really just tossed everything aside and said that stuff is worthless and makes my Father look like a monster. That should give us some pause, at least it does to me.

However, if you think that this wasn’t up to snuff, that God really didn’t do this it is troublesome in different ways. If you lean this way you have a different set of people coming out with the pitchforks and torches saying you’re a heretic or you don’t believe the Bible or whatever. Any human element of doubt or questioning is a reason for great suspicion and we’ve got to try to root that out as fast as we can, often with poorly implemented methods and attitudes.

You see I kind of get this reaction though, even if I think the attitudes and ways that doubt and questions are handled in some Christian circles are harmful and poisonous. I mean if the flood and the reason for it are not real, why do we have it in the Scriptures? Why didn’t we see Jesus condemning certain passages as distorting God’s image and character? Is it only to tell a symbolic story about God’s justice and mercy? If that’s the case the example is still pretty extreme and, at least in my eyes, conveys the same message regardless of if it actually happened or not.

So yeah, I feel the tension and discomfort of a passage like this, but I’m not willing to push it aside or discard it completely. I don’t have a perfect way of removing that tension or discomfort, but I do have some thoughts that at least help me. It may or may not help anyone else, but this is what I have to offer at the moment.

First, if I’m going to believe in a God that’s bigger than me and can see much more perspective than I can, I have to acknowledge that I don’t have a complete perspective. I mean even on this passage, we’ve given very little information other than the people were wicked enough to cause God regret and pain in his heart. Do I trust that a God who showed mercy, at least the way I see it, to Cain a few chapters ago has a good reason for doing what he’s doing here? Who am I giving more benefit of the doubt God or my own doubts and discomfort? (I admit that here I am believing that the story is truly about God either in the events actually happening or being a story or allegory that accurately describes God’s character.)

Second, I find no place here rejoicing for the wicked being destroyed. Sometimes that seems to be the tone that some Christians take as they talk about the “wicked.” “They deserve it”; “they had it coming”; and “that’s what they get”are phrases that sometimes get tossed around or come into my own mind at times, but I find no place for it here. God is pained to have to do this, it seems like a last resort kind of thing to me. God is not cackling manically like some super villain, but seems rather painted tragically as given a choice between doing something like this or allowing even worse to go on. It may make me or us uncomfortable, but God’s not exactly pictured as enjoying the whole thing either.

Third, I’m willing to admit that I don’t have all the facts. Whenever the flood might have happened I know one thing, I wasn’t there. If it did happen and I was, well my name isn’t Noah, so I imagine that you’d know how that would have turned out. There are people who, for reasons I can understand, view Genesis 1-11 as non-historical stories telling us important things about God, but not really happening as historical events. I’m not completely one of them, but I’m not willing to dismiss them quite so quickly.

We’re all wrestling with something much larger than ourselves here, even if some of us aren’t so willing to admit it. To simply dismiss people who take one view or the other seems a bit like jumping the gun to me. Trading barbs or talking points back and forth seems to get nowhere. There are issues with both interpretations we have to own. Is one right and one wrong? Yes I imagine so, they might even both be wrong somehow, but I certainly don’t know with any kind of certainty which it is.

This has gone longer than I hoped, but it wound up being a challenging topic for me to approach. I don’t come as an expert and having all the answers. I simply come, hopefully humbly, and say I’m not sure but this is what I’ve got. If you’d like to share your thoughts or opinions on the passage or surrounding issues I bring up here, feel free. All I ask is that it is kept respectful even in disagreement.

A Line of Evil and of Good?

Last time I looked at Genesis, I focused on Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4:1-8. While Cain’s murder of Abel was talked about, I didn’t go too much into what happened after the event. I’ll be doing this here, but I want to think about a concept that comes out of Cain’s murder and subsequent punishment. Does this event cause an evil line of men to come from Cain and a good line of men to come from Seth (who is born at the end of Genesis 4 to replace Abel)?

In Genesis 4:9-15, God comes to Cain after Abel has been murdered and asks Cain where Abel is. Cain plays innocent, but God knows of his sin and uncovers it. God also punishes him with further exile and that he will be unable to grow crops. Cain appears to be remorseful and laments the punishment.

It is interesting that Cain’s punishment is not death, and that God is even willing to place some kind of mark that both reminds Cain of his guilt and protects him against those who might take revenge. Cain, now an exile, leaves and settles in another land. There he builds a family and a city.

Of his descendants we’re told that the originators of animal husbandry, musical arts, and metalworking come from the line of Cain. Now if we view this as an evil line, then it is not too much of a stretch to view these activities as suspicious. However, this seems unlikely. Owning flocks of animals was never viewed as a negative in and of itself, musical instruments appear in the worship of God later, and while metalworking could create weapons of war, these are hardly the only things that could be made out of metal.

This reality challenges the idea that these inventions were negative. So if the line of Cain is to be understood as an evil or ungodly line of men, we’re left with the idea that evil men can still create good and useful human accomplishments.The idea of those who don’t follow God can still contribute to humanity shouldn’t be too hard to swallow. Many advances over time have been accomplished by those who are not followers of God.

This doesn’t really answer the main question though. Were Cain’s descendants this evil line of men who didn’t follow God at all or was the reality a bit more mixed? I’m thinking that our answer to that question will depend on how you look at the figure of Lamech.

Personally, I’ve always viewed this figure as negative. He takes two wives, which is not a detail I would view as being positive. We also have the somewhat odd speech in Genesis 4:23-24 where it certainly seems that Lamech is making a pronouncement that seems more natural coming from the lips of God and could be another example of mankind trying to be like God.

However, John H. Sailhamer in his Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Genesis again presents an idea that challenges my perception of this passage. He presents the idea that Lamech may be the originator of human law. Sailhamer puts it this way, “When read in the context of the Mosiac law and in the context of the teaching regarding cities of refuge, however, Lamech’s words appear to be an appeal to a system of legal justice.”

So “If Cain, who killed his brother with malice, could be avenged, then Lamech would surely be avenged for killing in self-defense, that is, for “wounding” him.” This makes some sense to me (although it may be stretch to call Lamech the father of law), but I like the way that Sailhamer concludes this section. He says, “The point of this narrative is not so much to show that Lamech’s sense of justice is correct or even exemplary. Rather, it is to show that Cain’s city and descendants had a system of law and justice representative of an ordered society.”

So where does this leave Cain and his descendents on the good-evil scale? Beats me, as they seem awfully human, or at least as human as you can get in such a short telling. Is Lamech usurping God’s authority in his declaration, or acknowledging God’s justice and mercy by appealing to what happened with Cain (He admittedly, doesn’t speak of God directly, but who else would be doing the avenging?)? It could be either or a combination of both honestly. Still doesn’t make the whole line wicked or good.

To further explore this, let’s briefly look at Seth’s line. Seth’s birth is presented in Genesis 4:25-26. Now, we’re not told much about him other than that he was considered a “replacement” of Abel and that he had a son named Enosh.

Then we have the rather cryptic phrase, “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.” Was this because of Seth and Enosh? Is this phrase more indicating the completion of the introduction to humans here in Genesis 3-4? I mean Adam and Eve called on the name of the Lord right? We have them doing that in this passage, as well as earlier in the chapter. So if it is an indicator beyond just Seth and Enosh, does that mean that Cain’s line could potentially have called on the Lord’s name as well? Is that what Lamech was doing by reiterating and expanding the promise of God to Cain?

Then we have the genealogy presented in Genesis 5. There is little indication that this line is godly or for that matter ungodly. Most of it is just a rather specific line, even within the line of Seth, followed. The only two that get any kind of further note are Enoch and Noah. Enoch is recorded as “walking with God,” and that “God took him away” and he didn’t experience death because of his faithfulness to God.

Noah’s significance seems more like an element of foreshadowing his purpose in the flood. Nothing about his following of God is displayed here, but he is presented as a positive figure. So really Seth’s line isn’t really marked out as overwhelmingly positive or negative. After all when we get to the flood we see that only Noah and his immediate family are saved from the flood. The rest of the unnamed line of Seth is just as destroyed as the even more unnamed line of Cain.

So all this to say that I have a hard time labeling one line as wicked and ungodly and one line as being pristine and godly. That’s not the way that the Bible honestly handles people. The ones who follow God can be sinful and wicked, the chosen line can disregard God and chase after other gods.The “pagans” can sometimes be ones who are faithful, I’m thinking of Rahab and Ruth as two examples of this. So it would seem a bit strange to put this in terms of a godly line and an evil line. It seems that all of humanity was wicked at the time of the flood so what do we do with that?

In some ways, I feel that presenting the idea of a good and evil lineage here potentially causes us to do that in our own lives and relationships. We feel that we are the true godly line and that those who are outside of the line are wicked and ungodly. The line could be our literal families, our denominations, our local church, or whatever kind of group we’d like to present as the good, Godly, choice. We can fail to see the evil that lurks in our own hearts and take actions and attitudes that may not be in line with following God at all. Then we fail to see the “wicked” as those made in the image of God and human just like us.

So we wind up setting up barriers rather than erecting bridges of love, mercy, and hope. In the story of Cain,  God still seemed to care for Cain, protecting him despite his sin, and Cain seemed to care for God in his lament that he would be hidden from his presence. I’m not sure I’m willing to sit in the judgment seat for Cain, Seth, their descendents or anybody else for that matter. Doesn’t mean that I can’t see what Cain did was wrong, just means I don’t know the final result of his life to say his line was therefore evil.

The Enemy Within – Good, Evil, and the Human Condition

It is probably no surprise to anyone looking around here that I’d be easily classified as a nerd or geeky type. What may surprise some though, is that I’ve never really watched Star Trek before. I’ve seen at least one of the movies that came out from the Star Trek: The New Generation era, but that’s about it. Being interesting in giving it a try, I decided to start watching Star Trek on Netflix. So far it’s been pretty interesting, but the episode I just watched made me think more than usual.

Star TrekThe episode was “The Enemy Within” and the premise is that there is a teleporter malfunction, (there is always some kind of malfunction or disease isn’t there?) that causes Captain Kirk to be divided into two. At first they don’t realize the dynamics of what exactly happened, but they come to learn that Kirk has been divided between his good and evil sides. So they have to find this evil side of Kirk, find a way to get them put back together, and get the teleporter working again so that they can save the crew that is stranded on a planet that gets deadly cold during the night.

How this division takes place is interesting. The good side has empathy, intelligence, love, but as time goes on the good Kirk loses his ability to make clear decisions on issues. The evil side is constantly afraid, violent, aggressive, and the decisions he makes are clear, but neglects the safety of others or are for his own base desires. Kirk’s good side reels at the evil that once lurked within that is now out in plain view. However, Spock makes the observation that Kirk is not Kirk without both of these sides.

The good Kirk may have logic, love, and emotion, but lacks the decisiveness needed to be the captain. Spock then concludes that this decisiveness must come from his evil side, just like his courage must come from the good side since his evil side is so easily frightened and always on edge. Basically, what Spock concludes is that we need both good and evil in us to be who we are. This dialogue and the theme of the episode made me think about the topic of good and evil regarding us humans. Here are some of the questions that the episode made me ponder.

The first question really has to do with us as a society. Do we believe the idea that we’re part evil and part good? I realize that Star Trek is a product of the sixties and not today so there will be differences, but it still makes me wonder if we hold this view in the general culture today? You don’t hear much talk about evil unless you’re talking about terrorists, murderers, or rapists except for maybe the occasional political jab about evil liberals or conservatives. I hear a lot of people say they think that people are generally good maybe even primarily good, but not a whole lot on inherent evilness at least outside Christian circles. Even then the evil inside isn’t usually as focused on as the evil we perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be on the outside. It seems that often evil is minimized or externalized. Evil is due to society, religion, or perhaps mental health issues, it seems to be rarely identified as something naturally within us.

The second question is one I haven’t really pondered before. Are there good things about me that are only able to be known due to the part of me that is evil? Just like decisiveness was a trait that came from Kirk’s evil side and courage was something that came from interacting with the fear present in the evil side, do we have similar instances? I don’t know as if I have any answers here, but I can think of one general example. Self-control as being a positive attribute at least according to the Bible speaks of something positive that comes from interacting with a side of us that doesn’t want to be under control.

Any other thoughts on the matter tend to flow something like this, I’ll use worry as an example. Is worry part of me that is evil? If it is, how does it shape who I am? Are their positive things that come out of it? Are the things that I may think positive actually positive? This line of questioning may be kind of helpful, but is hardly foolproof. Let’s say worry is part of evil, for sake of argument. It probably does shape who I am. I tend to be cautious with decision making, I don’t put myself out there that much, and I try to trust in God. Now are these good things? Trying to trust in God could be considered good if you think that trusting in God is good, which I do. The others well I’m not so sure. Is it possible that I’m overcautious and don’t trust God as much as I should? Does my worry about putting myself out there hinder the good I could be doing? So as you can see such self-examination isn’t necessarily easy or completely cut and dry.

The last question is about how this view of being half good and half evil interacts with the Bible. In other words does the Bible present the idea that we are both good and evil, and that we must be good and evil to be fully human? It seems to me that the answer is both yes and no. It seems to me that we are both good and evil. If we’re going to compare to the Bible, then we have to understand the greatest good in the Bible is to follow God. Now, as you read the Bible this also includes how we treat other human beings, but of first importance is following God. Star Trek is going primarily with the how they treat others and act in relation to the crew and circumstances, so the focuses are a bit different. But anyhow, I’d say you can read the Bible and see men and women who do good, both in the sense of how they try to follow God and how they treat others. None of these are presented as perfect, except Jesus, but there is the capability for good.

At the same time, evil is also present in many of the people of the Bible. You can see Abraham lying out of worry; Moses disobeying God out of anger, frustration, and maybe even pride; David who succumbed to lust, and resorted to lying and murder to cover it up and those are just some of the more well known figures. So it seems correct that there is a certain goodness to man, but also an evil that is constantly present as well. So it is in this sense I agree with the idea that we are a mixture of good and evil. It seems impossible to think of humans as only one or the other, at least in practical terms. I would also say that being a Christian means coming to grips with the fact that we are both good and evil.

The previous argument is why I answer yes, but there is also a way in which I must answer no. As a Christian I do believe that there will come a time when human beings will be free of their evil and be fully good. It seems that we are still considered to be humans at that point, so while it is currently impossible to be a human that is not a mix of good and evil, it doesn’t seem like one must be that way to be human. We may not be able to see or even imagine what that looks like in this life, but it is a hope that I hold to for the future. That one day the evil that I hold inside will be vanquished once and for all. So it is for this reason I also answer no. It doesn’t seem that it is always going to be the reality that humans are part good and part evil, even if that is the current reality.

So these are the thoughts that I had stewing around from an episode of Star Trek. What do you think of these questions? Have you own thoughts to add? Agree with me? Disagree? Feel free to leave any comments on the matter below.