The Spiral of Death
On my fiftieth birthday (fading away in the rear view mirror) my family took me on a whirlwind weekend getaway. We spent one day at an amusement park (where I watched everyone else enjoy the rides), one day on a long bike trip (which my bottom still remembers), and one day at a water park (took me days to dry out). I think I most enjoyed the water park ride where you come down a slide and are dumped into a huge funnel. After spinning around and around you get dropped through the bottom into a pool. A lot of the fun is to see how many times you can spin around before you end up getting dumped. But, one thing is for sure, no matter how many swirls you do, in the end, you will for sure get dumped.
When we began our study of Genesis, Doug made the point that nearly all the key teachings of the Bible find their “genesis” in Genesis; the root of so many spiritual truths are found in the opening chapters of the Scripture. This is certainly true of the biblical teaching about the nature and extent of sin.
The Bible’s portrayal of sin is brutal—it describes sin in stark terms, giving examples of rebellion, wickedness, and rejection. We see sin dominating King David, overtaking Moses, infecting Abraham, poisoning God’s people at every step. And, of course, the ultimate expression of the power and influence of sin is the cost God Himself had to pay to conquer its consequences. Jesus’ death on the cross manifests the depth of our sin.
Theologians often capture this essence of sin with the phrase “Total Depravity”. “Depravity” describes so well the destruction, the loss, the wrongness of sin; “total”, not in terms of “as-bad-as-possible”, but meaning, “distorting every part of the human being”. If you are at all self-reflective, you’ll recognize these characteristics in your own life—and in the lives of those around you. But, how did we get this way? OK, Genesis 3 shows the entrance of sin into the world, but how do we go from eating forbidden fruit to Total Depravity?
Sin, like the water park slide, is a death-spiral—eventually, it leads us all to the bottom. It doesn’t always seem that way as you start, sometimes it’s even hard to imagine things ending as poorly as they do. But the downward spiral accompanies sin at every turn. And Genesis 4 shows exactly that downward fall. Chapter 3 has forbidden fruit. Chapter 4 begins with anger, moves through murder, and ends with the threat of unrestrained genocide. Sin is not a passive thing. It is not a simplistic thing. It is not an easy thing. Sin “crouches at the door”; sin “desires to have you”; sin “casts us out of God’s Presence”. This is the devolution of sin into “total depravity” that is marked by Genesis 4.
But (and, as always with our God, there is a “but”), but Genesis 4 does not end there. The story of sin’s downward spiral into death does not end with our getting dumped into Hell. Genesis 4 ends with the birth of Seth, the ancestor of Abraham, the ancestor of David, the ancestor of Jesus… the Gift of Grace.
As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 4.
1. How do you explain Eve’s comments after giving birth to Cain? Just saying that God helped her through the delivery? What more might she be saying?
2. Why was Cain’s offering rejected and Abel’s accepted? What is it about the offerings, or the individuals, that leads to this different reaction?
3. Why is Cain angry once his offering is rejected? Who might he be angry at, and why?
4. What different ways might you understand the phrase “if you do well…” in verse 7?
5. How is sin pictured here in verse 7? What images are conjured up? What does that tell you about our interactions with sin?
6. What is the expected answer to Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What answer does Cain expect? What answer might God expect?
7. How does the story of Lamech magnify the story of sin earlier in the chapter?