It was a perfect environment created by God for His creation. It was very good. Then, sin crept, or rather slithered, into the garden and the man and woman plunged into sin and ruin. Their refusal to obey God resulted in the curse upon man and his environment. Mankind chose rebellion rather than a relationship and would now reap what they have sown.
This sin was not just a problem for Adam and Eve. It was now everyone’s problem. Sin and its devastating consequences immediately began to infiltrate and infest society. One of the ways this sin manifested itself was through violence. It all happened really quickly. For example, the fall of man was in Genesis chapter 3. The first murder occurred in Genesis 4, the very next chapter.
The first murder involved a conflict between two brothers Cain and Abel. These two brothers both brought an offering to the Lord. Abel’s offering was accepted and sufficient. Cain’s offering was rejected and deficient. The problem, it appears, was not with the offering itself, but rather with the one who brought the offering. The problem was with Cain.
Although volumes have been written about this story, it seems that Cain’s attitude was not right. When confronted by God, Cain became angry and defiant. God gave Cain the opportunity to make it right and said to him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:6-7).
Cain was given the opportunity to do a little soul searching and behavioral maintenance. He was warned that if he did not change, sin, like a vicious, carnivorous beast, was “crouching at the door” ready to pounce upon him. He had a choice. Rule over your anger or your anger will rule over you.
You probably know the rest of the story. He made the wrong choice. His inability to control his emotions allowed the beast out of its cage. As a result, he murdered his little brother. What’s worse, after the murder, God confronted Cain asking him, “where is your brother, Abel?” Cain, without remorse, responded, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The correct answer was, yes, you should have been.
As the story of Genesis continues to unfold, sin, like a virus, continued not only to abound, but to intensify. In fact, by Genesis 6, the Bible records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). This evil mindset led to external sin. The Bible adds, “the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them’” (Gen 6:11-13).
God had suffered the corruption and violence of man long enough. He would put an end to it. But, because of God’s great love and mercy, He chose to save Noah and his family and begin anew. But, as God already knew, you can change the environment of people, but unless you change the heart, you haven’t really changed anything. Time marched on. It was more of the same. More hatred. More violence.
Because of sin, all of us face the beast within. Sometimes we win. Sometimes the beast wins. Where Adam, Eve, Cain, you and I get it wrong, there was one who got it right: Jesus. When the Jewish and Roman authorities came to arrest Jesus in order to try Him for false acts of treason, Peter, one of the disciples, drew his sword and attacked the first guy he saw. It happened to be a guy named Malchus who was the servant of the high priest. The Bible records that he cut off his ear. Naturally, Peter was not looking to lop off body parts by starting with the ear, he swung, the guy tried to duck, and Peter missed his head by a nose (or should we say, an ear?).
Peter, who had seen Jesus do the miraculous, probably thought He would support his endeavor. But instead, Jesus healed Malchus and put his ear back on. He then said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Luke 26:52-53).
Jesus said two things. First, violence has a long, deceptive history and only leads to more violence and destructive consequences. Second, God is in control and my arrest is part of His divine plan. At any moment, I could choose to get out of here and do it without your help.
Jesus tried to teach us, and modeled for us, that the greatest weapon is not the sword, but love. Christ-followers are told to walk in love and forgiveness. God will take care of the judgment part. The Bible says, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:19-21).
That’s a tough pill to swallow. First of all, in true transparency, it makes little sense. Should we just let someone off the hook that hurts us? Remember, God isn’t saying that judgement is not necessary. It is. There is the temporal judgment (through the legal system, Rom 13:1-6) and then there is the eternal judgement where “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10). Jesus says ultimate justice will not be denied, just delayed. He says, “let me take care of that part.”
Second, extending love and forgiveness and allowing God to execute His will is just very difficult to do. You might say, “if I choose the road of love, I might be taken advantage of, hurt, and possibly even become a victim.” That’s true. I do not argue that point.
But, come to think of it, that’s what happened to Jesus. He was the ultimate victim. He was perfect in every way and arrested without cause. But, in the ultimate role reversal, the supposed victim became the sovereign victor.
Remember, at any time, Jesus could have yanked the nails out of His hands and feet, pulled the crown of thorns off His head, healed himself—and then called down fire from heaven to consume those around Him. That’s probably how we would prefer the story to end.
But with this alternate ending, He would not have displayed His perfect love for everyone—even the ones that drove the nails. And, with this alternate ending, we would still be our sin. Jesus, the marvelous Savior, modeled perfect love and forgiveness. His expects His people to do the same.
God is not absent. He is patient. We now live in a time where God extends His marvelous grace to all who would come to the Savior. Only His blood can cleanse the beast within. One great day, however, the well of grace will dry up, and ultimate justice will be done. Until then, we love and wait patiently.
Dr. Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.