“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”James 1:17 (NRSV)
Genesis chapter 4 is kind of a depressing chapter, really. It begins with murder and it ends with murder. In between is a lot of living that, at first glance, seems pretty impressive. But on second glance reveals a growing trend towards debasement and debauchery. What can the church gain from this dark chapter?
Well, for one thing, Jesus is no stranger to darkness. He knows what it’s like to be wounded by others’ sin, to wrestle with terrible temptation, to live in this broken world. He suffered ruptured relationships, found Himself unsupported in His darkest hour, loved people and got rejected in return. He knows what it’s like to be murdered. The writer of Hebrews reassures us that, “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Jesus “learned obedience” through suffering, and through His suffering, our own spiritual formation (or sanctification, depending on your dialect) is made possible. Jesus’ blood cries out for a better word than Abel’s. Abel cried out for justice, but Jesus cries out for mercy.
As the church, we are to cry out that better word, too, to long for mercy, to give mercy, to err on the side of grace and mercy—since we know we’re going to make mistakes, and get it wrong, at least a few times. On that great and glorious day, may it be that we say, “We got that one event wrong, We see that now, we erred on the side of love, grace, and mercy,” rather than, “We see it now, we erred on the side of judgment, condemnation, and punishment.”
And, as individuals we need to recognize our own dark tendencies. I find myself asking what grievance, or offense, or jealousy, or entitlement I might be harboring that I need to deal with before it corrodes the inside of me…
- What thoughts have I been unmindfully thinking, that have been shaping the way I see other people, the way I interpret the world, my experiences, my relationships?
- What desires have I allowed to grow inside me that are now motivating me in ways I am uncomfortable with admitting?
- What coping mechanisms have I become accustomed to, that are really widening the gap between me and God, and me and others?
- What have I allowed to block intimacy with God, and intimacy with the people I love?
- What strategies have I been unmindfully developing to get what I want, or to manipulate others into doing what I want, or to try to prevent what I don’t want?
The church, though a living organism in ourself, is also the individuals who comprise the body. Who I am, what I think and feel, what I say and do, vitally matters in the organism of the church. If I hurt, whether we realize it or not, the whole church hurts. If I harm, the whole church is harmed, and, in a mysterious way, also becomes a part of the harm I perpetrate.
In every way, the church must be distinct from the culture which surrounds us. As the Body of Christ, one such distinctive is to be the longing for righteousness. When any in the church—and in particular, leaders—are found to have done wrong, or been wrong, conviction from God is to be gratefully welcomed, for it brings the healing of His forgiveness and restoration. As a distinctive, believers are to be known for asking forgiveness of those they have wronged, and for seeking to make restitution whenever possible.
It does not enhance the church’s reputation when we seek to cover over the wrongdoings of our leaders, and of ourselves, and to ask the victims of wrongdoing to keep silence. Of all the ears we most long to listen to us, God’s are the most important, and He hears the cries of those who have been wronged. Whenever we find ourselves seeking to hide what is unseemly, thinking the shadows are best, we must resist.
The world’s laurels go to those who distinguish themselves with great achievements. But, for the church, character, the fruit of the Spirit, and the perseverance and endurance gained from living by faith, are to be most prized. As we raise our children, in the community of Christ, what do we dream for them, what do we hope for them, how do we form their spirits, and their character? In what order do we rank the importance of their schooling, their sports, their art and music accomplishments, their appointments, concerts, games, prizes and ribbons, and their spiritual growth?
Every people group is deeply imprinted with the culture around it, the culture in which these people were born, the culture they propagate by speaking the language, and by living by the tenets and values of their culture.
Yet, the apostle Paul urged believers to resist the pull of human cultures. “Do not be conformed to this world,” he wrote, in his letter to all the churches in Rome, “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Paul explained the danger of living unthinkingly in the culture that surrounds us. We will hope for our children what the culture tells us to hope. It will not occur to us that what we expect of and for our children is anything but godly, for are we not of God? Do we not study the scriptures? Have we not made it our priority to live rightly? And yet, without an intentional move to reject our enculturation, we actually make ourselves incapable of truly discerning “what is the will of God,” what Paul explained “is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In just this way, we can unconsciously saddle our daughters, and our sons, with the notion of Adah, and of Zillah, who existed solely for the pleasure of and in the shadow of, those in power, those who are privileged.
Instead, we must give our sons and daughters better dreams, better hopes, for God’s glory, for each other’s equality in God’s eyes, for the humility of Jesus, the Lord of the universe, Who came to serve, and, not to be served. Women and men are both called, together, to exalt God, and to honor and respect each other as equal in value, equal in ability, equal in calling.
[Image courtesy of Pexels, scriptural paraphrase added by author]