Genesis 4 Can you really believe what the Bible says about ... evil?

Sun, 17/03/2013 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

“It’s not fair”.

That’s how it feels so often.

So many of the difficulties in life are not problems of our own making. Character traits, habits, situations that we’ve inherited from our upbringing, from our parents, from the neighbours we just happen to have, from our employers, from the general economic downturn. All kinds of difficulties happen to us, and it’s left to us to cope with the situation we’ve inherited.

That’s partly how you feel by this point of Genesis. Adam and Eve were placed in a pristine world. They had access to the tree of life. They had a perfect garden where all their needs were met. Life was full of joy and free of pain. But they blew it. They ate from the other tree, decided they wanted to be independent from God, everything changed.

They were kicked out of the garden, and the rest of us are born outside. We all inherit a world where work and childbirth are painful, and a world where decay and death is all around us. But it’s not fair! We have to live with all of this because of their mistake. Why can’t we start life with a clean sheet like they got to? We’d do so much better, but we haven’t been given the chance. It’s not fair!

Well: Remember we said that Genesis chapters 2, 3 and 4 form the first main unit of the book. Genesis chapter 2 described how things were at the very beginning. When God said that everything he had made was very good, how were things for us? Then Genesis chapter 3 describes what it is that went wrong. How it is that Adam and Eve came to eat from the one tree they had been told not to, and what followed from that?

But then comes Genesis 4. If chapter 3 is the big turning point when things went wrong, and if chapter 2 is life before the big disaster, chapter 4 describes life afterwards. Chapter 4 describes the world we live in. Chapter 4 describes what life is like for people like us, people who have never been to the garden of Eden, who were born outside, who will spend all of our life outside.

And as we read about the world we live in, we discover two things. We learn a bit more about sin – not Adam and Eve’s this time, but ours. We’re going to find that the world is fair.

And we see a shaft of hope shining through as well.


Let’s start, then, with sin. Genesis 4 tells us 4 things about sin this side of the fall.

Spoils our Relationships

First, sin spoils our relationships.

Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit, and they were primarily rebelling against God. God told them that the consequences of doing that would affect their marriage, but what they did was not first and foremost something they did to each other. It was a rejection of God.

But then we meet Cain. Cain’s heart was also rebellious against God, but the way that came out was in something he did to his brother, Abel. He killed him out of jealousy.

When our hearts are not right with God, this spoils our relationships with each other. We do things that we know will hurt other people – emotionally or physically – and we often do them quite deliberately.

1 John chapter 3 verse 12 warns a 1st century Christian church not to be like Cain, who murdered his brother. John does not believe he’s writing to a church on the verge of actual homicide. But he does believe that the kind of lovelessness and selfishness that Cain shows here all too easily takes root – even in a Christian church, even in our own church.

Sin spoils our relationships.


Second, sin escalates. Sin escalates.

It all starts with God not being impressed with Cain’s offering. That led him to be sulky. That led him to murder.

And then we get to the 7th generation, to this man called Lamech. He knows that God had promised to protect Cain. If anyone saw Cain wandering in his exile and killed him, God would ensure that justice was done. That’s what the sevenfold thing is about – seven is the number of perfection. If Cain were killed, God would ensure perfect justice.

And Lamech takes that and twists it. He thinks this gives him the right to take the law into his own hands, to enact his own vengeance, and to do so multiplied by 77. So he commits the second murder of the Bible, in retaliation for someone who stepped on his toe. Or something similarly minor.

Sin escalates.

Many governments are a bit worried today about the situation in Korea. North Korea has just cut off communications with the south, which makes people worried that the situation there might escalate. In the 1950s, it was a few minor military excursions across the 38th parallel that were repaid with a slightly bigger military exercise, and so on, that led to the full-on Korean war.

The first world war began with one man being killed in Sarajevo. But as one country after another began to say: Well if you’re going to defend that, then we’re going to do this. The result was the whole world at war for 4 whole years.

Genesis 4 says that is what sin does, and it’s what happens when it’s our sin as well. When we do something wrong, we will try to justify it by doing something else even worse, like the story of David and Bathsheba if you know that one. We dig ourselves into a hole, then we dig in deeper.

And when something wrong is done to us, the wrong we do back is worse.

Sin escalates.


Then third, we see that sin is uncontrollable. Uncontrollable.

God gently warns Cain at the beginning. Verse 6: Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

Sin is crouching at his door. Like a wild animal, ready to pounce when he steps outside. Its desire is for you. Sin wants to take over, take control, get on top.

And that’s what happens. Sin is like a fire. You kindle a little fire on a campsite, but it catches a bit of dry grass next to it, which starts to spread towards your tent. You thought you could control the fire. Perhaps you still can, but unless you act very fast you’ll end up with something you cannot control.

There was a report a week or so ago warning that too many people were keeping exotic pets and some species were struggling in the wild as a result. You’d need to know what you were doing if you had a pet lion, wouldn’t you? The cub looks so cute. Not much bigger than a cat. Fun to play with. A fully grown lioness is a different matter. I was two foot from one once, and their thigh muscles are no joke. You start off in control of the little kitten. You’d end up with a pet you cannot control, and that has the power to destroy you.

And if you’ve not yet seen the film Gnomeo and Juliet – please do so. It’s fantastic!

That is what sin is like, says Genesis 4. It cannot be controlled. God warns Cain, and then we watch the tragic events play out.

And it’s no different for us. We start – deciding that the lie, the affair, the speeding is something we’re doing because we want to be free – we want to be in control of our own lives. It becomes clear very quickly that we’re not in control any more.


Judged by God

The fourth thing we learn about sin in this chapter is that it is judged by God. Judged by God.

One of the great lies that Adam and Eve believed, and that we are all tempted to believe is that God neither sees, nor knows, nor cares what we do.

Cain and Abel exposes the lie for what it is. Just as God came walking in the garden to confront Adam, so God comes to ask Cain why he’s angry at his brother. And then after the murder, God finds him again to ask him where Abel is.

And then God acts in judgement. Adam was banished to the east of the garden. Cain was banished to another land, even further east.

By the time we reach the end of chapter 4, we’re quite clear about the world we live in. It’s a world where we continue to sin. And where God continues to judge.


That, then is what this chapter shows us about sin. It is true to say that we are victims of other people’s sin. But first and foremost, sin is something we do, something that spoils our relationships with others, something that has a nasty habit of escalating, something we are not in control of, and something that God sees and judges.

But in the midst of that dark portrait of the world, there is a shaft of light; there is hope.

Cain had two brothers.

Abel managed to offer God a sacrifice that God accepted. He found God’s favour. We’re not saying he was perfect; he sinned too, no doubt, but what he did had God’s approval.

The difference was his sacrifice. We’re told that Cain just offered God some of what he’d grown. Whereas Abel offered him the very best bits of his very best animals. Cain’s offering was a bit of a token gesture. He looked like a worshipper, but his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t want to give anything that would cost him.

Imagine you have a friend coming round for dinner. There’s a scale of what you’d serve up. It depends who it is, when they’re coming, and what the occasion is. There are some friends with whom it would be perfectly appropriate to scrabble around in the cupboard to see if any of your tins of beans are still in date. But if this is someone famous, someone you wish to impress, a once in a lifetime chance to spend the evening with someone, you’d go to a little more trouble. You’d probably cook from scratch. And every ingredient would be the finest specimen you could find. Fresh stock, not cubes. Fresh pasta not dried. And so on.

Abel gave God the very best. And God looked on it favourably.

Cain had another brother, too. Seth. A gift from God to his parents to replace the two sons they’d lost. And Seth had a son called Enosh, and in his time we’re told people began to call on God’s name. People began to turn back to God in humble, dependent prayer.

There’s an alternative. There’s another way to live life other than this endless cycle of rebellion, sin, chaos and destruction.

We’re only in the 4th chapter of the Bible. We’ve got a long way to go yet, and the Bible doesn’t reveal all of its secrets at once. So this chapter doesn’t explain why Abel’s way, and Enosh’s way, makes God smile. But there is a hint that there is a way to find God’s favour in the midst of all that darkness.

The rest of the Bible will add the details for us.

It’s something to do with Abel’s sacrifice, and the theme of sacrifice will develop and become a big theme in the Bible. God was later to set up a whole system of sacrifices for his people, whereby animals could be killed instead of them, and God would forgive and accept his people because the animal had taken the blame for what they had done wrong.

And then later still, God would come to earth as a man. An animal could never really take the blame for what I had done wrong. So God himself, born as the man Jesus, would die on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice. Once for all time, sin is dealt with, and we can enjoy God’s love and smile again.

Genesis 4 also tells us it’s something to do with turning humbly to God. Enosh’s name means weakness. Abel’s name means vapour, or breath. It’s those who know they are nothing who find God’s love and goodness. The rest of the Bible tells me that however hard I try I can never be good enough for God. We’ve seen: I cannot control my sin. I cannot solve it. I need God to solve it for me.

Jesus taught that it is the poor in spirit who inherit the kingdom of heaven. At that point when I turn to the Lord Jesus, and ask him to forgive me as a free gift, because I could never earn his forgiveness and love, I find that he says yes.

The rest of the Bible tells us how there can be hope. It’s all to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The perfect sacrifice. That we can make ours in humble trust.

But this passage in the Bible, right at the beginning, shows us that there is hope.


We may cry out that life is not fair. And often it isn’t.

But the fact is that we live in a world where we sin. This is not something done to us, but something done by us.

And yet, in that world it is possible to enjoy God’s favour. It is possible because of a perfect sacrifice that was offered. And it’s easy and available for all of us – we just have to swallow our pride.

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