Consequences & Care
A couple of years ago, I was at Disneyworld for a conference. It was beautiful, sunny, and in the mid 70s. I was up early one morning taking a run around the resort, and the lawn crews were out in force… mowing, edging, trimming, blowing debris… to make it look perfect. There was another crew repainting huge blue columns at the entrance to the conference center. Another crew was picking up every small speck of trash imaginable. Everything looked perfect and “magical.”
And then later that day, I’m on a Disney bus going to Downtown Disney, and there’s tired, frustrated, cranky children with tired, frustrated, cranky parents. People are in the stores sliding plastic through credit card machines… eating, drinking, and enjoying the “magic” of it all… until they get the credit card bill later this month. It was such a juxtaposition… the illusion and the work that went into making everything look perfect… and then the underlying reality that the people experiencing the most magical place on earth, were perhaps escaping for a while… but in reality, they’ll return to reality soon enough… and reality won’t be so “magical.” Now I know you’re all thinking that it must be an absolute blast to go on vacation with me. This is the curse of being a pastor.
We go to such pains to make everything look like its perfect when we know deep down its not. Living in a fallen world, we tend to respond to brokenness with superglue, tape, paint, and wonderful, plastic smiles. Let’s make it look like we’ve all got it together… when really don’t. Let’s cover over our sin and our addictions. Let’s cover over the fact that our marriage is falling apart. Let’s hide from the fact that we are broken to pieces on the inside. Let’s just pretend that all of life is Disneyworld… and it’s all “magical.” That’s how we tend to respond to brokenness. That’s how we tend to respond to the reality that our broken world is about as corrupted as it can possibly be. So here’s the question: How does God respond to the corruption of a broken world?
In this look at “Consequences & Care,” we are going to look at what it looks like to live in a corrupt, broken world… seeing how quickly the wages of chaos and sin spread to the rest of the Story of God. We are going to look at some of the stories in Genesis 4-11… seeing how God responds to the corruption of a broken world… and seeing how He begins to bring humanity back to Himself in what we call a “covenant.” We won’t go fully in-depth on any of the stories in Genesis 4-11, but as we talk about some of the stories, we’ll see that three key themes emerge from this section of the story: (1) Corruption, (2) Consequence, and (3) Care.
In the last chapter called “Chaos,” we talked about the entrance of chaos and sin into the story of God. Sin, which at its essence is unfaith—a lack of trust in the goodness, provision, and Lordship of the Creator God—reveals itself in human rebellion against the very heart and word of God. So now humanity is living under the curse, east of Eden, outside of the presence of God. And Genesis 4-11 is a picture of how quickly humanity slides from paradise with God… it’s a stark picture of the devastating effects of the corruption of the human heart. To help us see that more clearly, I want to highlight three stories within these 8 chapters: (1) Cain and Abel; (2) the events immediately leading up to the Flood; and (3) the Tower of Babel.
(1) Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). From the first story right after Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, we find out that they’ve had two kids. Those kids grow up… Abel is a rancher who raised livestock… Cain is a farmer who grew crops. They’ve learned to worship God through coming to bring sacrifices. Abel gives the best of his animals as an offering, and the text seems to say that Cain simply brought part of the fruit of the ground… no mention of “first fruits” – the first and best of what he grew. So already, we see something amiss in Cain’s character and in his worship. The Lord had “regard” or favor for Abel’s offering, but for Cain’s offering, the Lord saw into his heart and had no “regard” or favor. Cain gets angry, so the Lord confronts Cain on his attitude and intentions… gives him a not so subtle warning. Cain disregards the Lord’s warning, stews in his anger until it becomes rage, and he kills his brother Abel. The first kids from the first parents… in the fourth chapter of the Bible… and one of them murders the other one. Corruption.
(2) The events leading up to the flood (Genesis 6:1-7). This is what happens right before the Lord decides to flood the whole place… the sons of God intermarry with the daughters of men. There are three primary interpretations on this difficult passage: (1) Fallen Angels or demons intermarry with human women; (2) Dynastic kings and rulers intermarry with commoners and perhaps take them with violence; and (3) the godly line of Seth (the son born to Eve after the murder of Abel) intermarries with ungodly women likely from the line of Cain. Time does not permit me to go into much detail, but I don’t believe it’s fallen angels because the punishment is not for the angels but for humanity on earth. I also don’t believe it’s the dynastic kings and rulers because kingship is not expressed in any way into the passage or the passages leading up to it. I believe it’s that the godly line of Seth (see the genealogy in Chapter 5 – 1656 years worth of the godly line of Seth) begins to become corrupt as they intermarry ungodly women. Whatever the interpretation, humanity has become very corrupt (v. 5). And God is grieved and sorry that He has made humanity. One author explains it like this:
God was sorry that He had made humankind because people generally did not want a relationship with God. They insisted on living life independent of God and consequently destroying themselves in sin. He was sorry over what His special creation had become. God is no robot. We know him as a personal, living God, not a static principle, who while having transcendent purposes to be sure also engages intimately with his creation. Our God is incomparably affected by, even pained by, the sinner’s rebellion.
(3) The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). The last story that I want to highlight this morning is the apex of human pride… the trajectory of the temptation in the garden… wanting to become like God. After the flood, in the covenant with Noah (we’ll talk more about that in a moment), God tells Noah and his three sons to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. That means they are supposed to spread out upon the face of the earth to subdue it, rule over it, and fill it. Noah’s son Ham is a bad apple, and so his family lineage doesn’t obey the command of God. They gather in one place and build a city, likely the city of Babel (which later becomes Babylon), and in that city they build a tower-like temple. They are rather impressed with themselves, seeking to make a name for themselves instead of seeking the face and name of the Creator King, and they want to become like God. Corruption.
So in 8 short chapters after the chaos and curse of the fall, we have rage induced murder, self-seeking apathy, flippant disobedience, and rampant pride. Humanity is corrupt.
Theme #2: Consequences
As the stories in Genesis 4-11 unfold, we see that there are divine consequences to human corruption. And I see two types of divine consequences and each is a facet of His perfectly just and righteous response of divine wrath.
Consequence 1: I will let you go.
Cain kills Abel. In the story of Cain and Abel, we see that God does give Cain a warning… and goes to the heart of the matter… that “sin is crouching at the door.” But in the end, God allows Cain to choose what he will do. God didn’t force Himself on Cain. And Cain kills Abel.
Sometimes when there is rampant sin and corruption and we don’t see God step in, then we think that there is no consequence to sin and His wrath and discipline are not present. Read Romans 1:18-28. God’s wrath is just as real even when it’s His “passive” wrath… “He gave them over.” And perhaps that’s even worse… as though God, once again, in perfect, holy justice and righteousness tells us, “Alright… if that’s the bed you’re going to make… I’ll let you lie in it. If those are the sinful, corrupt choices you are going to make, then I’ll allow you to reap what you have sown.” Sometimes the divine consequence of our human sin and rebellion is that God simply allows us go further and faster down that road of sin than we ever expected or imagined until we hit rock bottom.
Now, let me take a quick excursion for a moment… not to give you license to go further and faster down the road of sin, but to give you hope if you are travelling down that road of sin right now. I don’t believe that you can lose your salvation. Some evangelicals would disagree with me. But I believe that what God began in you, He will finish (that’s what Paul tells us in Philippians 1:6). He started a good work in you… and He will complete that good work in you. Now if you’re here today, listening to this, and you could give a rip less about what God has to say, then that’s another question… you need to ask if you really are saved… have you really given Jesus your life? Because if you have, then you’ll care… you might be in a place of sin right now… but at least you’ll care… or at least want to want to care. When God lets us go, in His divine discipline, He simply lets us reap what we are sowing… and the bill will come due.
Consequence 2: I will step in.
So one of the divine consequences of sin is that God says, “I will let you go.” The other divine consequence is on the other side of the continuum. God says, “I’ve had enough, and I will step in.”
The Curse on Cain. So after Cain kills Abel (which God could have prevented but instead He allowed Cain the human freedom to choose good over evil and faith over unfaith), God steps in with another one of those “omniscient” questions in Genesis 4:9 – “Where is your brother Abel?” and “What have you done?” And Cain, much like his parents did when they sinned and rebelled against God, chose to not take responsibility for his actions. So God actively steps in and levels a curse against him… that the ground that he farms will be even more unproductive and that he will be a wanderer on the earth… he’ll feel homeless all of his life.
The Flood. The flood is a powerful picture of God having enough of human sin and corruption, and the consequence of that human sin and corruption is that God steps in with His perfect and just divine wrath. He levels the place with the chaos of the waters. Human sin and corruption has become so rampant, violent, and chaotic, that God steps in with divine wrath and judgment and cleans house in a dramatic way.
The Dispersal & Scattering of Babel. In the story of the tower of Babel, God steps in. They have disobeyed God’s command to spread out, fill and multiply… and they have instead chosen to gather together in a cesspool of proud, arrogant, corrupt hearts. So God confuses their languages (hence the name “Babel” which means to confuse or to confound… humorously akin to our English word “babble”). And God scatters them, and in a very real sense, His scattering them is gracious because He is saving them from themselves.
When we sin and live in a place of corruption and chaos… there are the consequences. Sometimes God simply let’s us go to experience the consequences of our sin… and sometimes He steps in immediately and divinely disciplines us. The catch is… we don’t know which He’ll choose, when He’ll choose it, and how He’ll do it. That should give us pause and some second thoughts about traveling down the road of sin and corruption.
Theme #3: Care
What I love about the story of God is that even though the story is dark and the human heart is very corrupt and broken, the thread of redemption is woven throughout the story. As we saw last week, even amidst the curse, there is the seed of the first gospel… that Satan’s head would be crushed and destroyed by Jesus Christ, the God Man, as Jesus died to pay the ultimate penalty for sin and death. Throughout our stories this morning, there is God’s divine care and grace even amidst the stories of human corruption and divine consequence. There are a couple of places that I want to highlight God’s care throughout the story.
The godly lines of Seth. In Genesis 4-11, there are two genealogies… two lists of family lines. And the point of both of those genealogies is to show that even amidst human corruption and divine consequences, God is preserving a godly line through which He’ll work His story of re-creation. In Genesis 5, we see the godly line of Seth (Adam and Eve’s son born after the murder of Abel)… and the lineage goes from Seth to Noah (which means “rest.”) The highlights in this genealogy epitomize the godly line of Seth. These men and their families, even though they lived under the oppressive shadow of the curse (“and he died” – 8x), they attempted to live out the blessing of God in an indifferent and even hostile world. They were lights against a very dark backdrop. And we see a similar godly line in Genesis 11 from Noah to Abram. God pours out grace and care upon these families and uses them in their obedience and even in spite of their disobedience to bring about His story of re-creation for His glory and for our good.
God’s grace to Noah. Another striking place of care and grace in the story this morning is found in Genesis 6:8-9. So right after God’s diagnosis of the utter corruption of humanity and the impending divine consequences that would result in the flood, there is a seed of care. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” The word favor means “grace”… unmerited favor. So in the midst of all of this corruption and chaos, all of the divine consequences that are coming, God gives grace and unmerited, unearned favor to Noah. And then v. 9 says that Noah was righteous and blameless. It’s an important theological distinction to see that v. 8 comes before v. 9. Favor and grace, acceptance in the eyes of God then leads to the ethical outworking of righteousness. It wasn’t that Noah was a great guy so he found favor. Noah was a sinner saved by grace, and then he lived like it. This is a picture of divine care.
So God chooses to give grace to Noah and his family and spares them the devastation of the divine consequences of the flood. God reveals care for them, commands Noah to build an ark, and then when the flood waters come, Noah stays above the chaos of the waters through the favor of God and his obedience to build this massive ship.
After the flood waters subside, God enters into a covenant with Noah and the rest of this new humanity. “Covenant” comes from the Latin co (“together”) and vene (“come”). So God in His grace and mercy says to us, “Let us come back together.” The covenants unfold more and more of the character and nature of God and more and more of the character and nature of our relationship with Him. In the covenant that God makes with Noah, He promises that He will not flood the earth again as evidenced by the sign of the rainbow, but He expects humanity to come back to Him and to respect each others’ lives as they are created in the image of God. God reiterates that He cares for humanity and the rest of creation, and in that care, He clarifies what it looks like to live under and in that gracious and divine care.
In my own life and story, I’d simply be beyond lost without the grace and care of God. I can’t imagine where I’d be… potentially dead or addicted to something, slowly (or not so slowly) disintegrating from the inside out with a corroded and corrupt heart. So when I see the seeds of care and grace in the midst of stories of corrupted lives and hearts, I simply say thank You Jesus Christ. He is the One who has saved me from myself… He is the One who has stepped in and rescued me from a life of futility, purposelessness, and ultimately death. Just like Noah walked into that ark as the rains started to come down, I walk to that cross of my King Jesus where my corrupt heart and sin was rescued and redeemed. I walk to that empty tomb to see the promise of new life as my King Jesus has walked out into the glory of a new day… inviting me to do the same… with Him… with His divine care and grace.
Remember, the story of God is the story of the God who creates and re-creates for His glory and for our good. He is the God who desires to do a continual renewal and re-creation in your life. If you’re in place of sin, it is corrupting you, and there are and will be very real consequences. But even in that moment, as you wake up, and recognize the very real consequences of sin, unfaith, and rebellion, there is a continual message from Jesus Christ of care and grace. He is there right there in your story, calling you to Himself, pouring out grace to you… opening the door of the “ark” for you to come into safety even as the chaos of the waters rise around you. But you’ve got to listen to Him… hear His voice… and take the offer of life, grace, and care. And He will do that work of re-creation… for His glory and for your good.