In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
A lot of the Old Testament can seem really strange because it’s so far removed – in time, in culture, and in literary forms. But, as we’ve said before, we want to pay attention because it sets the foundation for where we are in God’s story. Now we’re pretty fortunate because unlike most of human history, we have insight in the form of the whole Bible as to the structure of the story.
- Beginnings – Creation and Sin
- Israel – Abraham to Exile
- Jesus – God’s Salvation
- The Church – New Israel
- Endings – Future Hope
Where we are in the story is still very much in Part One. And as we mentioned last week, what we are seeing is the problem of sin, humanity’s separation and rebellion from God. We’ve a couple of weeks to go, still. But what we want to pay attention to is what exactly sin leads to. The sharp distinction between what God intended for us and where going our own way leads to. Understanding this helps us understand the rest of the story.
Now just a brief word about the structure of Genesis. What’s the deal with all of the genealogies? You may have noticed we passed over chapter 5. If you take a look at chapter 5, you’ll see that it’s one of the many genealogies that we see in the Bible. Most of the time, when we come across these, we either gloss over them, read them as quickly as possible, or ignore them altogether.
Practically speaking, the genealogies help tie everything together. They show us that we are all part of the same story. In Matthew and Luke, we also get the genealogies of Jesus because Jesus is a continuation of, and indeed the culmination of, the story of God’s redeeming work in the world.
So our passage today takes place after a genealogy tying together the creation of the world and the introduction of sin because of human beings’ rebellion. As we have seen, God created the world and created it good. And he created human beings and intended that they (we) would have a particular place and role in creation – to be priests, to administer His grace in this world. But because of our sin, we have lost our way. But, as we saw last week, already in the story, we are seeing that in the midst of sin, we see God’s grace. Even though we have rebelled, God is already making a way for His redemption.
But what we have today is a description of this sin, this brokenness, spreading throughout humanity. What we see is a clear description of sin becoming so widespread that it grieves God. Remember what we saw last week in the account of Cain’s sons. When Cain is cast out of Eden, he becomes a wanderer – someone with no home and no land. We see that Cain establishes for himself a city.
16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.
This building of a city, just a passing mention, is actually quite informative. It’s just a few words, but it tells us a lot about the human condition.
Cain, in being cast out of the presence of God, fears for his life. We read in that passage that he is afraid that whoever finds him will kill him. The building of cities speaks to that fear. That need for protection and shelter in a hostile world. This is why, generally speaking, people have built cities – in a nutshell, there’s safety in numbers. So there’s something to be said there about Cain’s need to find protection because he is outside of the presence of God.
Now, a note here that cities in and of themselves are not bad. Because, remember, we are created for community. And cities, apart from anything else, are about community. But a city without God (and it’s hard to ignore the fact that Cain names the city after his own son, as a testimony to himself, not to God) becomes something else very quickly.
And this is what we see in the city of Cain. Out of the presence of God, Cain’s city is essentially established, not as an act of community, but as a response to fear. In that passage, we see this graphically in the story of Lamech who, like Cain, murders someone for “wounding” him.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times
All this to say, that in today’s passage, what we are seeing is the natural consequence, what inevitably happens in a world without God.
In Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God, he gives a really good description of the problem of sin. He quotes Barbara Brown Taylor (who quotes Simone Weil) who says,
“All sins are attempts to fill voids,” wrote Simone Weil. Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but only God may fill [it].
Keller goes on to quote Soren Kierkegaard who says,
“Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself before God.
This is a pretty apt description of what goes in our lives. We’ve talked a lot about how the first sin, our fundamental sin, is wanting to be gods unto ourselves. About attempting to decide or create for ourselves what is good and what is evil. It’s refusing to acknowledge that there is in fact a God to whom we are accountable and to whom we owe our lives. So we have this giant hole in our lives, in our very beings, that we try to fill with things, none of which can take the place of our relationship with God.
- It’s why relationships can so easily become boring, or toxic, or co-dependent.
- It’s why work becomes a toil or a burden.
- It’s why we jump from experience to experience trying to find something that will satisfy us.
- It’s why we try to escape from things – why we run away in the hopes that the next place or the next thing will be better.
In the absence of God, the one who created us, we have to try to find something to justify our existence. We try to find something to give our lives meaning. And what we find is those things quickly become our gods and either take over or poison our lives.
And that’s what we’re seeing in our passage today:
5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Without a relationship with God, trying to do things of their own accord, trying to make sense of their own lives, humankind quickly gets out of control.
So What Now…?
Once again, I want to remind you that this is not the end of the story. I want to remind you that ultimately the story, God’s story, is about God’s redemptive work in history. At the end of the story, sin does not win.
But I also want us to remember that we need to take sin seriously. And by that, I don’t mean that we need to be pessimistic about ourselves. By taking sin seriously, I don’t mean to say that we need to be self-hating. It’s not a matter of thinking poorly of ourselves. Rather, we need to be aware of the temptation that is all around us – to live life, any part of life, as if God doesn’t matter. Whether it’s work or family or relationships or even church. Whenever we try to take control of these things by our own strength or wisdom, whenever we try to do any part of live without God, we fall to the temptation of sin. And we need to understand that the consequences of life without God are, unfortunately, severe. They may not be obvious, but they are serious. Ultimately, to live without God is to live without hope.
Therefore, we need to take equally seriously what it means to live by grace. We remember that there is a way out. Even though the wickedness and godlessness of humankind is great; even though every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time, selfish all the time, deceitful all the time; even still, God makes a way for us. Even still, God invites us home.