In a world gone mad, Christians can become unwitting assistants to the insanity, and therefore, it is incredibly important for Christians to keep the building blocks of civilization straight in their own heads. How are cities built? They are built on the principle of personal responsibility.
The Text: After Adam and Eve sinned, and God spared their lives, Eve bore children to Adam, the first two apparently being Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1-2). God was pleased with Abel’s worship and displeased with Cain’s, and this made Cain very angry (Gen. 4:3-5, cf. Heb. 11:4). God warned Cain that disobedience and a bad attitude meant more evil was crouching at his door, and he needed to rule wisely, but Cain ignored the warning and murdered his brother (Gen. 4:6-8). When the Lord confronted Cain, he shifted the blame like his parents before him, raising a philosophical question about the nature of responsibility, but the Lord was not distracted and reiterated the curses for Abel’s blood (Gen. 4:9-12). When Cain realized that his actions left him vulnerable to the vengeance of others, he pleaded for mercy and God sent him away with a mark of protection and he started building a family and a city (Gen. 4:13-18). We see the downstream results in his family when Lamech takes two wives and soon admits to murder as well (Gen. 4:19, 23-24), and yet, God also grants his family a measure of cultural dominion over cattle, music, and technology (Gen. 4:20-22). Meanwhile, Eve bore another son to Adam, named Seth, and in those days, men began to call on the name of the Lord (Gen. 4:25-26).
Building Culture in the Ruins
This may seem like a very unlikely passage to discuss Christian culture building. Ultimately, the whole earth was filling with evil, leading to the flood (Gen. 6:5). But there are at least two curious things in this text: First, why did God spare Cain (and later, Lamech)? And why did God bless his family with a measure of cultural success? We know that sometimes God blesses the wicked with success in order to give that wealth to the righteous (e.g. Prov. 13:22), but we do not want to be backed into a corner where we are saying that it’s just inscrutable luck. So, despite the growing disobedience of the human race as a whole, it seems likely that the way God dealt with Cain’s sin was related to his ability to build cities and discover true treasure and glory in the earth. Where did that ability come from? Common grace and the image of God are certainly part of the picture, but the text curiously frames the agricultural, musical, and artistic and technological advances of Cain’s family with the stories of Cain and Lamech (Gen. 4:19-23).
While we may (rightly) note the familial resemblance between Cain and Lamech’s sin, we should not miss the fact that five generations later, Cain’s descendants are still citing God’s dealings with Cain (Gen. 4:24). In fact, Hebrews says, we have come “to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:24). In other words, the murder of Abel was a type of Christ’s sacrifice, and it’s in that context that men are dwelling in tents, raising cattle, making music, and working with metal. The point is that in the midst of the anarchy of sin, God administered a measure of justice, insisting that Cain take responsibility for the bloodshed of his brother, and as he did so, the city of Enoch was built, and five generations later, Lamech is also taking responsibility for his sinful actions and his family is cultivating cattle, music, and technology.
Conservative Victim Cultures?
If you have been around here long at all, you have heard and read any number of warnings about the current “sacred victim culture” we live in. This is a false gospel if there ever was one (cf. Gal. 1). It offers justification and holiness to any and all who will claim the status of victim. This is a form of self-justification, since a victim must claim relative innocence, and this is also a form of crowd sourcing your justification – justification by popular vote. But perhaps most importantly, this is a refusal to accept responsibility. There are certain frontal assaults in this war that we must not budge on: insisting on justice for the accused, two and three witnesses, due process, etc (which, incidentally, is how true crimes should be adjudicated). But we must also be aware of certain flanking attempts, where Christians are offered various victim club cards (e.g. religious persecution and discrimination, liberal fascism, the Federal regulations, unjust taxation, Hollywood, porn, etc.), but we must see every offer of victimhood as an offer to join the anarchy, to become assistants to the insanity.
We must refuse and reject every offer of victimhood, not because real injustice cannot be perpetrated against us, but because we are never totally innocent and we have a better offer. And this is because we have a better victim. Jesus is the better victim because He was completely innocent and willing, and therefore, His sacrifice was an act of taking responsibility in order to present us to God with all glory (Eph. 5:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:24-25). And because Jesus took responsibility for us, we are completely justified by faith. Our sins are washed clean, and the obedience of Jesus is imputed to us (Rom. 4:22-25). This is why Paul says that even when we are victimized, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:36-37).
Personal Responsibility & Culture Building
Satan plied Eve’s moral clarity in order to deceive her: Did God really say? Here, Cain has taken it a step further, asking whether God should really even be asking him about his brother (Gen. 4:9). Moral ambiguity is frequently closely aligned with evading responsibility. People have a bad habit of trying to justify sin with ambiguity and confusion. This can be done by straight-forward evasion and relativism, but this can also be done by claiming that everything is everyone’s responsibility, which ultimately means no one is responsible for anyone because you are not infinite, omniscient, omnipotent – in short, you are not God. Be assured that the attempt to do this will always result in various attempts at playing god. But this will ultimately result in apathy and paralysis. Why should anyone do anything? What are you working for? Who are you working for? What would constitute any actual progress? What are you responsible for?
This is why Christians, in submission to God’s word, have historically insisted that faithfulness means being responsible and sovereign over the sphere(s) that God has assigned to you (and not others). The principle of “sphere sovereignty” comes from God assigning responsibility to particular people in particular relationships: civil magistrate, parent, husband, master, teacher, etc. God assigns three broad spheres: family, church, and state. And God’s law always applies to every sphere: a man may not murder his brother and tell the civil magistrate to stay in his own lane. I suspect that God gave Cain such a light sentence (as well as Lamech) both to display His great mercy (as He had with Adam and Eve) and to lean hard against sphere anarchy. In God’s ordering of things, personal responsibility is the basic building block of culture. Men are tempted to try to trick power out of evasion of responsibility, by blaming others, by claiming to be victims, but that is a black hole of chaos and anarchy.
But the answer to the chaos is the gospel: Jesus has taken personal responsibility for us – for our sin and for our good works (Eph. 2:8-10) – His blood speaks better things than that of Abel, so that one by one, as we call on the name of the Lord, living stones are being built up into the city of God, as we take up the good works that He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in them.