Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday Leftovers - More Thoughts on Genesis 4

For every Sunday’s sermon, I usually have about twice as much material as I have time to use. So, a lot of it ends up on the cutting room floor. Obviously, the stuff I delete are things that I do not believe are essential to the point of my sermon. My main point is that Abel was living by faith while Cain was living by works. Grace leads to joy. Works leads to bitterness. Joyless, self-righteous, angry, religious people show by their emotions a lack of confidence in the gospel. To understand why I believe this is what Genesis 4 is teaching, you can listen to the sermon here. Still, there are usually some interesting tidbits that I don’t have time to mention. Below are some quick hits on the leftovers.
  1. Notice the parallels between Genesis 3 and Genesis 4. You have the sin, God’s inquiry, and then the pronouncement of judgment. One of the great differences is in how Cain responds to God’s inquiry. Adam shifts the blame. Cain is still downright defiant—even being sarcastic with God—“Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?” Sin has become harder and more brazen.
  2. The curses of Genesis 3 become worse in Genesis 4. Since Cain rejected family by killing his brother, he will live in alienation from family. Since he spilled his brother’s blood onto the ground, he will live in alienation from the ground. The earth will no longer yield to his strength. Since he chose to alienate himself from God by killing one made in God’s image, he will be driven from the presence of God. Notice the food theme going on as well. Adam eats of the fruit. Then, in pronouncing the effects of the fall to Adam in Genesis 3, eating is mentioned five times. Adam sinned by eating. Now eating is going to require pain and toil. Then, in Genesis 4, Cain works the ground. Now, the ground will not produce food for him. Man is getting more and more alienated from the earth. Man was supposed to rule the earth, but now the earth will not yield to man’s strength.
  3. In judgment, God gives you what you want. Here is part of the deceptiveness of sin. It lures you in, promises you freedom. As judgment, God lets you have it. Cain despises his family, so God drives him out from his family. Cain rejects God’s Word and promise. So, Cain is driven from God’s presence.
  4. We see the shocking degradation of sin in Cain’s response. Even after God had confronted him, even after God has pronounced his judgment, Cain shows no repentance and no remorse. Instead of falling on his knees, pleading with God for mercy, he still clings to his self-righteousness by claiming God is unjust. He says, 13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. He is complaining that God is treating him unjustly and still seems clueless as to how he treated his brother unjustly. It is all about Cain. His blindness is astounding, as it is with our sin.
  5. Because Cain has rebelled against God, he is driven to restlessness. There is a whole sermon in this point. If I had time, I would love to explore the theme of Sabbath rest on the seventh day of creation and man’s restlessness apart from God.
  6. This restlessness is rooted in our separation from God. As Augustine said, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Calvin said, ““There is no peace for men, unless they acquiesce in the providence of God, and are persuaded that their lives are the objects of his care… they can only quietly enjoy any of God’s benefits so long as they regard themselves as placed in the world, on this condition, that they pas their lives under his government.”
  7. God shows remarkable mercy on fallen mankind. Genesis 4 is not just a story of sin and saving grace, but also a story of sin and common grace. Cain and his posterity go on to build cities, develop marvelous technology, create art, and other cultural developments. Even the line of Cain makes beautiful culture. As Christians, we can celebrate this with our fellow man. We enjoy the technological developments of fallen mankind. As Steve Brown often says, he doesn’t care if the pilot is a Christian or not. All he wants to know is, can he fly this airplane? This is also why we can enjoy the beautiful creations of people who were not necessarily Christians. Both Beethoven and the Beatles produced great music. Neither Beethoven or any of the Beatles had what we would call an orthodox faith. Yet, we can celebrate the beauty of their work.
  8. God also showed his mercy in the mark of Cain. The mark of Cain was not a sign of judgment, but of protection.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Brave New World Meets 1984

On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that allows for federal funding to be used in embryonic stem cell research. In doing so, President Obama and most of the media proclaimed this as a victory, not just for stem cell research advocates, but for science. Alice Park of Time magazine wrote, “The President's decision does much more than expand funding for stem-cell research. It heralds a shift in the government's view of science, ushering in an era that promises to defend science — and the pursuit of potentially useful treatments — against ideology” (Researchers Cheer Obama's Vote for Stem-Cell Science). The president himself said, “It is about ensuring that scientific data [are] never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

President Obama’s words are truly Orwellian. He has rephrased the vocabulary of the discussion over stem cell research so that the debate is not over the sanctity of human life, but over science. Many people (including many scientists) have long objected to embryonic stem cell research because they believe that a human embryo is in fact a human being. As a human being, it has human rights. One should not be able to dispose of a human being simply for the purpose of scientific experimentation. Most Americans are horrified by the evils of human experimentation, such as the Tuskegee Experiment, and do not wish to see that sort of thing continue, no matter how great the scientific gain.

However, with his remarks, President Obama has redefined the debate. According to the president, the debate is not over the sanctity of human life, but over science. So, if you oppose embryonic stem cell research, you are placing ideology over science, or, as he said, you are making decisions based on ideology and not facts. The not so subtle implication is that if you believe in the sanctity of human life, you are an anti-scientific, backwoods, Luddite rube.

In 1984, George Orwell dramatically demonstrates that, if one can control the language and define the vocabulary, one can always win the debate. Language is a powerful tool. If President Obama is successful in redefining the debate over human life in this way, then there will be no debate. No thinking American wants to be anti-science and anti-knowledge. No compassionate person wants to allow an ideology to interfere with scientific discovery if that scientific discovery can improve the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. Most people do not want medical advancements to be hindered by political ideologies. If the debate is framed in those terms, then there is no debate.

However, the President’s remarks—as well as those who support them—reveal a very clear, distinct political ideology. His remarks assume that the belief that a human embryo has human rights is an ideological position rooted in theology and that his belief that unborn babies are not humans is not an ideological position. That is, those who agree with him are non-ideological and those who disagree with him are trying to impose their ideology on scientific discovery.
As Christians, we must remember that nothing in this world is neutral—including science. When it comes to science, all human beings would agree that there are certain types of experimentation that are immoral no matter how much promise they hold. Testing on unwilling live human subjects or killing people for the purpose of scientific discovery is beyond the pale. Therefore, we must remain clear that we are not anti-science, but we are pro-life.

As a side note, in 1984, in the Foreward to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that we as Americans have escaped Orwell’s horrors of Big Brother. Instead, Huxley’s A Brave New World has come about in our midst. Postman writes, “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. . . . Orwell feared that truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared that we ould become a trivial culture. . . . In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.”

My question to Postman is this: What if both Orwell and Huxley were right?