Screaming Bloody Murder

Cain kills Abel

After the shalom of God is finalized, life carries on nicely – for a while.  Then, disobedience and making ourselves our own God, enters in.  Sin and his brother death enter God’s paradise at our invitation screaming bloody murder.  To illustrate what just happened – the gravity of the situation – God shows Adam and Even what they just wrought upon the world.  Genesis 3:21 reads:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them

Don’t skim over that.  It isn’t only God demonstrating that He still loves and cares for Adam and Eve. That’s part of it.  The real point here is to bring the couple so close to the consequences of their actions – making sure they get it.  God brings them so close to their choice that they have to wear it. The very creature Adam named (Gen. 2:20), one he probably loved, was slaughtered before his very eyes, and then he wore the hide to cover his now-ashamed body.  He and his wife are now thrust into a very different world. A world that would soon be screaming bloody murder.

Time passes and we meet the kids.  Cain and Abel. The text doesn’t give us much background other than this: Cain raised a garden and Abel raised livestock. It’s clear the family still worships God because the two offer sacrifices.  Cain, however, is jealous.  He thinks God likes his brothers’ stuff more.  God has a pep-talk with Cain, addresses his “heart” as the problem, not the content of the offering – even telling Cain sin is waiting outside your door to master you – don’t let it! Cain chooses to disregard God’s warning and goes his own way. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Cain says, “Hey brother, let’s take a walk out into the field.  I want to show you something.” Abel obliges as the two walk alone. It is here that we read:

While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Gen. 4:8, NIV)

The first murder.  A son of Adam murders his own brother out of jealousy and envy.  Not much has changed, has it?

God comes back to Cain, trying to get some honesty.  He says, “Hey Cain…where’s Abel?” To which the famous line comes as Cain’s response:

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9, NIV)

The text shows us God isn’t keen on Cain’s sarcasm.  He knows what happened.  He was hoping Cain wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes as his dad had. You remember, right? The time  Adam tried to play a game of cosmic hide-and-seek, stashing himself behind a shrub in the garden. That got dad olly olly oxenbanished. So God lays it out:

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Gen. 4:10-11, NIV) 

That phrase “cries out,” is the Hebrew word tsa’aq. It means “to shriek, cry out, call for help.” In other words, Cain’s life was screaming bloody murder. The ground cried out as the first homicide is carried out in the field east of Eden. As the lifeblood of innocent Abel hits earth, the very Creation tastes blood for the first time.

Cain, like mom and dad, understands the implications of his actions. He is wrecked.  God doles out the sentence. God consigns Cain to be a wanderer – always on the move – sowing but never harvesting.  The earth won’t respond to the farmer, no matter what (Gen. 4:12).  We get a glimpse of Cain’s despair.

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Gen. 4:13-15, NIV) 

At this point, we’d expect God (in our vengeance-laden minds) to say, “So what?”  However, as God is usually in the habit of doing, we are treated to the debut performance of something that glues the rest of Scripture together.  Genesis continues:

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,east of Eden. (Gen. 4:15-16, NIV) 

God responds to the first murderer not with capital punishment or consignment to hell. God responds to the first murderer with grace. Grace is the visible preservation of shalom.  God places a mark on Cain so that no one will hurt him or his family. God doesn’t smite Cain, he gives him grace and mercy.  Yet, as the ground screamed bloody murder, Cain foisted murder and violence upon the earth.

Sin continues to show itself in violent ways. Right after the first murder we meet a guy named Lamech. Where Cain was remorseful of his violence, Lamech was proud of his. Lamech strolls onto the scene with bloody hands boasting about murdering a teenager (see Gen. 4:23-24). Sounds like a nice fellow, doesn’t he?  Lamech’s song sets the tone for humanity as violence engulfs the world.  Instead of only the ground screaming out, the whole world is screaming bloody murder. It gets so bad that God decides to wipe the slate clean and start over.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (Gen. 6:11, NIV)

Don’t miss what the text is pointing out.  God isn’t just punishing arbitrary evil – not even close.  Look at the last word.  God is specifically punishing violence. Violent actions flooded the globe, and so God floods the earth.

Here’s the takeaway:  The early chapters of Scripture celebrate peace, not violence.  God continually shows derision for violence among mankind. God shows grace to a murder, despite the grounds for “just” punishment of a murderer. Even as the world was screaming bloody murder, God begins to point humans back to peace.

Shalom in the Beginning

recruiting-myths

I love the Bible. I believe it is the authoritative word of God. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grappled with it. I took a course in Bible college that concentrated on the texts of Joshua and Judges. As a new Christian, and a former skeptic, I found these books hard to stomach. How could Jesus, who stood for peace, enemy-love, and sacrifice, be the same God in the Old Testament? The massacre seemed constant, and I struggled to make sense of it.

I no longer battle with those views, but, I think it would be unwise to believe no one else does. I know many folks personally, even Bible-believing Christians, who still do.

I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. When speaking to people of various faiths (or without faith), the second biggest hurdle to Christianity, is the violence in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous quote is Richard Dawkins, when he writes that the God of the Bible is,

jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It’s also quite an allegation. While certainly not a fan of Dawkins’ conclusions, to reject it as unreasonable would be an injustice to both logic and common sense.

How do we prepare to discuss this issue? Is God really as Dawkins and others in their own ways have rendered Him? If He is, how do we reconcile that to Jesus and the New Testament teachings? Teachings like turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and praying for your persecutors? Saying trite things like, “God can do whatever He wants,” or “He’s God. Don’t’ worry about it,” will not suffice. So, we go to the Beginning.

The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) begins with a loaded statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NIV). In the first two chapters of Genesis, we see a Creative God who creates. He creates fish and spiders, the sun and the moon, day and night, plants and trees, galaxies and aardvarks. He speaks, and it happens. On the sixth day, after created everything else we know, God creates people. The text says,

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:26-27, NIV).

He forms us in His “image and likeness,” meaning we are a reverberation, an etching of His eternal self. It sets us apart from everything else in all of creation. We also see the Master comment on His finished masterpiece, “It is very good” (Gen. 1:31a, NIV). He’s pleased. Everything is perfect. All is as it should be. The world is perfect.

The underlying concept of Creation that is necessary to understanding story of God in the BIble from this point on is the word Shalom. This Hebrew term is charged with meaning. It includes the absence of conflict and death, and implies wholeness, fullness, joy, peace, and completeness. Simply put – perfect.

Shalom is paramount to understanding the Bible for two reasons. First, it displays the nature of God. He’s creative, loving, and kind. He provides, helps, and guides. He dwells with Adam and Eve, not apart from them. He is very good. Second, we learn God’s initial purpose for humankind and creation – peace. Not violence, war, hate, racism, sexism, infanticide, and whatever else Dawkins’ or other’s claim.

The foundation of the full Bible rests upon God’s Shalom. As we’ll see, the rest of the Old Testament moves towards that intention. The entirety of Scripture from Genesis 3 forward, is God moving to renew HIs very good creation. In the next post, we’ll see at how things went south, and what God begins to do to bring things back on course.

For now, just know, that the Very Good God has not abandoned His very good creation.

In Christ,
Scott

American Christianity’s Real Problem

Go to your browser and type in “American Christianity’s problem”—I’ll wait. Did you find anything that agreed? I didn’t either. I saw a lot of posts, including a YouTube video pic of John Piper appearing to “dab” from the pulpit.

Things like, too old-fashioned or irrelevant. Fake. Hypocrites. LGBTQ hostile. Hate. Racist. Sexist. The Patriarchy. Yes, those are all problems. We all are learning. Though all these things are absolutely deserving of our attention, there is a more glaring problem we’re not seeing. The American church has a violence problem.

Before I begin, you need to know that I have grown up with violence. I play video games, fire guns, have watched Fight Club, and love The Walking Dead. Yet, as I read the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, I cannot escape being confronted with the most uncomfortable truth: The Bible teaches nonviolence.

I didn’t arrive at this position by choice. If anything, I’ve fought ferociously. I have prayed to come to different conclusions. I have prayed that God would let me ignore it. Yet, God, as He does, has continually turned over the tables in my heart to show me His truth. I wasn’t raised a Quaker. I wasn’t raised by hippies from the Vietnam Era. Truthfully, every part of my upbringing was pretty normal, and it goes against everything I’m going to be writing about.

Like all boys, I grew up with toy soldiers, tanks, NERF guns, paintball, air soft, and slingshots. Mortal Combat was the game of choice for my friends and I.

My grandfathers served proudly in World War 2. My favorite movies of all time are Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. My first news-related memory was Wolf Blitzer announcing the commencement of Operation Desert Storm. I wrote an essay in High School that awarded me a scholarship on my reaction to September 11, 2001. In it, while talking about unity and love, I also spoke kindly about “getting rid” of all terrorists. I was the typical American boy.

I was baptized into Christ at nineteen. At that point, I couldn’t conceive how someone could be a Christian, read the Scriptures, and think that violence and war, and all that goes with them, aren’t compatible with Scripture. You’d have to be biblically ignorant or anti-patriotic to believe that! So I carried on for a year or two until I seriously began to study the Sermon on the Mount in Bible college.

It was there that I was haunted by the idea that Scripture was incompatible with violence and bloodshed. Try as I might to quiet this though, even attributing it to Satan on many occasions, it kept hounding me. So I kept praying, studying Scripture, and researching.

As it stands, today, I do not believe the Bible endorses the use of violence. Not for the church. Not for individuals. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I know a lot of folks who don’t. That’s okay. I’m not asking you to agree. I’m asking you to open your Bible and follow the Spirit’s leading on the subject.

Understand this: I am not–I REPEAT–am not referring to anyone who serves in the military. These discussions somehow always end up there as some kind of trump card. That’s not where this is going. While subjects like militarism, nationalism, and violence are going to come up, my focus is on Scripture. It must be. Our guide must be Scripture. Scripture is our authority. I have no qualms there. To follow the Messiah, we follow His word.

I believe American Christianity’s real problem is violence. I believe a good portion of the American church has been conscripted (knowingly and unknowingly) by the idea that violence, war, and bloodshed are godly virtues. The idea that somehow God is pleased with His people behaving in such manners appears nowhere in Scripture.

Every problem listed on Google related to looming problems in American Christianity hinge on our beliefs on violence. That may seem like a stretch, but if you stick with me, you’ll understand my thoughts. You might not agree with me. That’s ok. Hopefully you will see why I think the way I do. In my next post we’ll begin Bereshit–in the Beginning.

May you be blessed,

Scott

Skullduggery

I can’t stand it when I subscribe to a blog and the author never updates. It blows my mind!  Maybe they update–every 3.67 months.  Either way, I can’t handle it! Another thing?  When people ramble on for two thousand words.  TL; DR. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

Confession time.  I’m THAT blogger.  Or, at least, I have been.  I’ve been guilty of all that and more.  This isn’t my first blog, by the way. I’ve had two. RansomedBeggar and Oldesoultheology I was a lot better with the first blog.  I stunk at the latter. I pray to do better on this one.

So, who am I and why should you read my blog? Good question! Because I’m awesome!  I’m the hippest cat you’ve ever met!  I’m lit with the jive. Ok. I’m none of those – well I’m pretty awesome according to my wife and mom. My name is Scott-that’s me in the picture over there. I like long walks on the beach, fluffy things, and the word “skullduggery.” I’m a minister at Crosspointe Church of Christ in Franklin, Ohio.  I’ve served here for over six years.  It’s an incredible place and my family and I are blessed to serve here!  Speaking of my family, my wife is the most beautiful, incredible, intelligent woman on the planet. You may think I’m contractually obligated to say it.  I’m not.  It’s true.  Yours isn’t.  Sorry. She’s the best mom to my two babies who are 2 and 5.  We’re so proud of them! My wife rocks and my kids are hilarious and amazing!

I love coffee.  I play Xbox (Currently State of Decay 2). I’m not a morning person.  I have ADD.  I’m a demonologist. I love to sleep.  I’m not good at people-ing. I don’t English good (See?). I play guitar.

Ultimately, my identity comes not from who I am, but through Who Jesus is.  I’m first and foremost a Christian.  I love Scripture and discussing it.  I enjoy discussing it and hearing from all sorts of folks.  My home is the Word of God.  I’m not a scholar by any means, but I have a good time digging into the Scriptures. I do my best not to shy away from difficult passages and topics, but I don’t

always succeed. I let things that make me uncomfortable; things like other people’s opinions/views turn me away from continuing conversations.  I have sometimes avoided certain parts of the Bible to keep from having to talk about them. I don’t like to have my life thrown around. Deep inside, however, I know that’s a requirement if I desire to follow Jesus Christ.

That’s the reason I chose to name the blog Turning Over Tables. I’m going to do my best to talk about the things Jesus has been “rearranging” in my heart. “Rearranging” is a nice way to put it.  I want to share with you my wrestling matches with Scripture.  I want to invite you to walk with me on how to apply the eternal truths of the Bible to life today. I want you to accompany me as we witness Jesus turning over the tables that we put up in the temple of our hearts.

I don’t expect you to agree with me, nor I with you on every nuance or thought.  That would be unrealistic and silly.  I just ask that any discussion be kept civil and loving.  I’m not going to get it right most of the time.  I’m not trying to.  What I am trying to do is follow after the King of kings and Lord of lords.  We’re going to fall down a lot together.  But I’ll pick you up if you pick me up.  Sound good?  So, hit that handy subscribe button on the side and get ready.  We’re about to get straight-up kooky dooks.  Stay tuned.

In Christ,

Scott