Genesis 4, War, and Biblical Ethics

My students discussed the concept of war from the Bible last week in Sunday School with a different teacher. The teacher did a great job showing the kids all of the different perspectives on war in scripture. However, as I used last weeks discussion as a jumping off point for my topic this week, How Do We Begin Interpreting Scripture and Embodying It In Our Lives, it was interesting to see the natural conclusions that Jr. High and Sr. High students draw from lessons. For my lesson, I took them to Genesis 4 (Cain and Abel) and had them interact with the text. My first question was, “What are we to learn from this story?” Answer from a student, “Do not kill.” Bingo! WRONG ANSWER! Second bad student conclusion, “Capital punishment is wrong!” WRONG AGAIN! The point of the story being in scripture is not to give us these moralisms. Of course it is bad to kill. We knew that before engaging the text. Capital punishment, well that is a much larger debate that we would be foolish to decide on based on one story. Here is what we found in the story after further meditation- Cain jealousy turns into hate and rage, his rage turns violent and he ends us slaughtering Abel. God converses with Cain and places a curse on Cain (being that he will be banished from the community of humanity), and then does a wonderfully merciful thing of placing a mark on Cain so that no one would murder him.

Is not this the point of the story? God begins to provide an alternative path for humanity. Humans think in cause/effect and black/white. God provides a third option. Humanity would seek out retribution and revenge or cowardice or apathy or something of this kind. God provides mercy and grace. Is killing wrong? Is war good? These are not the questions we should ask? These are human questions. God goes beyond all of it and asks, “WHAT IS REDEMPTIVE?” What will restore humanity back into right relationship? What will change the cycle of revenge? Jesus’ ethic goes beyond the simple ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Yahweh’s way brings life, love, and redemption.

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