I posted an earlier version of this essay on 3/8. I have updated it in light of additional reflection and class discussion.
Here is the latest edition:
The Missional Character of God in Genesis 2-4
A missional hermeneutic of the Scriptures is acutely interested in tracing God’s missional activity as presented in the Scripture. Those who work in missional hermeneutics begin with the metanarrative in the Bible. In this essay, I want to comment briefly on God’s response to human disobedience in Genesis 2-4. These chapters begin to offer a portrait of God’s missional activity specifically. Part of the power of this portrayal is the overarching grace and mercy present in God’s response. It is important in a missiological reading of these texts to recognize that this is a suprising element. Sin has consequences and these texts make no bones about the graveness of sin and its repercussions are immediate and creation distorting. Yet in spite of human rebellion and callous disregard of God’ creational intentions, the Creator does not withdraw and leave creation to unravel through its own devices. Rather, God continues to offer guidance and relationship. The biblical God is not merely a “fair weather deity”; the LORD God remains engaged in the messiness of human affairs in order to act redemptively.
The backdrop to these texts are the creation stories: 1:1-2:3 and 2:4-2:25. These offer a portrait of God’s creational intentions and humanity’s role within them. We are also introduced to God’s missional character as one who acts to bring order, beauty, and rest to Creation. Humanity stands at the pinnacle of God’s creative work and at the center of God’s plans. Humanity was created to serve as God’s visible representatives before Creation to serve as stewards over it and to fill it so that God may be witnessed to and glorified all over creation.
The tragic story of Genesis 3:1-7 undoes this original plan. Humanity is shown to lack trust in the true sovereign over creation. How does God respond to the disobedience of Adam and Eve?
Let us consider these key post-Fall texts in Genesis 3-4:
3:9 “Adam, where are you?”
On one hand, this is one of the saddest moments in Scripture. The relationship between humanity and God has been ruptured from the intimate portrayal in Genesis 2:4-25 to such an extent that Adam and Eve hide from their Creator. On the other hand, this line demonstrates God’s continued engagement with humanity despite their disobedience. God doesn’t withdraw from Creation – he goes looking for his lost people. The verb used for God’s pursuit of humanity is qr’ “called.” The Lord calls out to a humanity that has alienated itself through its actions.
3:9ff God continues to speak with humanity in the Garden. Humanity’s sin does not mark the end of verbal revelation.
3:21 “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
The immediate result of Adam and Eve’s consumption of the fruit of the forbidden tree is the realization of their own nakedness. This marks the irony of their disobedience. They were seeking wisdom and instead reveal their own folly. They move from “naked and unashamed” in chapter two to “naked and ashamed” in their new heightened state. Yet, God shows great mercy here. Instead of leaving them exposed and humiliated, he graciously provides a suitable covering for the man and woman.
4:1-2 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
In giving birth to her firstborn, Eve recognizes the hand of God. God’s creational mandate for humanity of “being fruitful and multiplying” remains valid. God continues to permit humanity to fulfill its mission. Disobedience does not alter humanity’s ability to fill the earth.
4:6-7 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
This is perhaps the most astonishing example of missional engagement in these chapters. In these verses, God attempts an intervention before Cain takes a disastrous road. He offers a grave warning to Cain and offers him an alternative path that would open the way to a new life. This profound act of grace goes unheeded but it demonstrates that God continues to desire the best for humanity.
Moreover, God’s verbal revelation to Cain suggests that God’s Word continues even in a post-Garden of Eden world. God’s revelation is not confined to Eden but is operative and available outside of Eden. Humanity is expelled from the Garden but this does not mean that humanity is cut off from verbal communication. It may not heed God’s Word, but it will be available to those with ears to hear.
4:15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
In a remarkable act of mercy, God protects Cain from the very fate suffered by his brother. Unlike Cain who showed no such mercy to Abel, God provides Cain with a protective mark.
4:17-24 Cain to the 7th Generation
Cain is not merely a “fugitive and wanderer” as the LORD had spoken (v. 12). Cain settles in the land of Nod. There he marries and has a son Enoch. Moreover he founds a city named after his own son. Cain is not cut off from humanity. Instead he has descendants. The pattern is familiar. There are consequences to Cain’s actions, but God’s mercy continues to show its face.
4:25-26 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.
God works to redeem the death of Abel by blessing Adam and Eve with another son, Seth. The last sentence of verse 26 suggests that this side of the family begins the proper worship of Yhwh. This is surely the response desired by God in his missional response to the infestation of sin in humanity. Most English translation use a plural here suggesting unnamed persons responding to Yhwh. The Hebrew in 4:26 is singular. The closest possible subject is Enosh or the line of Seth in general. The LXX clearly understands Enosh or the line of Seth as the one who begins to “call upon the name of Yhwh.” The word translated “callED” (Heb qr’) is the same one used in 3:9 of God’s initial response to humanity’s sin.
1) God’s saving actions for humanity reach their climax and fullest revelation in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. But God begins the movement that will culminate in Jesus immediately upon the entrance of sin in the world. Thus, from the beginning of the Bible to the end, it is God who initiates salvation.
2) God’s mercy and grace in response to human sin and messiness serves as a missional model for the community of faith. Sin is not taken lightly and its grave affects are clear, but God continues to reach out with hope and love to His fallen world. In fact, God takes the initiative to redeem humanity. As noted above, God’s first response is to call out: “Adam, where are you?” or simply “Where are you?” God makes the first move. Yes, sin is profoundly tragic, but it does not alter God’s desire for real relationship with humanity.
3) These texts give no warrant for a knee-jerk withdrawl from engagement with the world. The community of faith, if faithful to God’s missional model, will remain engaged in the world rather than seeking to separate and build a bulwark around itself to keep the world out. Genesis 3-11 offers a snapshot of the world that we inhabit. It is not merely some far off place. If God continues to engage his lost world, this remains our mandate as well.
4) There are persons who will respond to God’s missional actions. God shows great patience and acts broadly in search of those who will respond to his grace. This suggests that followers of Christ should practice a consistent and persistent witness of loving service and clear communication of the Gospel to as wide a population as possible. As God’s missional work in Genesis 3 and 4 involved both words and deeds, so should ours. The only tangible response to God in these chapters is the actions of Enosh in 4:26. A person in the line of Seth began to call upon God’s name. The word call (Heb qr’) brings to mind God’s call to Adam in 3:9. Finally, God’s invitation for relationship is heeded. The lesson here is about faithfulness. God’s people must commit to offer a clear and persistent witness to the Gospel. There is no guarantee of a response from everyone, but this text reminds us that there will be some who will indeed.
© 2010 Brian D. Russell