In the words of cultural commentator and theologian David Wells, non-Christian society is rapidly losing moral altitude. We are not merely morally disengaged, adrift, and alienated; we are morally obliterated. We are, in practice, not only morally illiterate; we have become morally vacant. The onset of this spiritual rot has come so rapidly that many would say that we have been in a free fall. We have lost our virtue, and we are left to talk about values, but our values have no universal value because the idea of absolute truth has disappeared from public discourse.
The rapid loss of moral altitude is evident throughout society. We see crumbling social structures all around us, from the family, to the inner city, to the corporate boardroom. Our schools, no doubt out of good intentions, have shifted from teaching character formation to values clarification … and we are genuinely nonplused by all the practical consequences. Children are not only more lawless in school, but they are too often without any apparent moral consciousness regarding their actions. The loss of moral altitude is also evident in all the professions: business, law, and medical. Many are scrambling to introduce ethics into our universities. One needs only to remember the ongoing exposure of “cooked books” and corporate greed in the business community to know that these efforts have been too little, too late.
We are looking now at a society, a culture, a civilization that, to a significant extent, is travelling blind, stripped of any moral compass. The character of our culture is increasingly like that of the culture of Cain and his descendants. In a word, it is Cainite. The story of that ancient culture is narrated in Genesis 4:16-24. We see our likeness to that culture in four ways.
Like Cain and his descendants, we want to keep the name of God without the presence of God. Notice Genesis 4:17-18. Cain and his wife were fulfilling the command to fill the earth, but notice the names that they gave to their sons: several of the names have the name of God (“El”) in them (Mehuja-el, Methusha-el). Remember the preceding context, however: God had sent Cain out of His presence; in other words, God had excommunicated Cain from His presence (Genesis 4:9-16). What, then, are we to make of the names of these sons who bear the name of God? They bore the form of God in their names but not the reality and presence of God. They had the form of godliness but not the reality. They took the name of God to themselves in vain.
What happened then happens today as well. In study after study, it has become clear that those who take the name of Christ in a profession of faith and baptism and claim to be born again do not live different moral lives afterwards from those who claim to be straightforward secularists. Nor does the experience of having been born again impact their moral vision.
Too many in our culture and in the church today are like Cain’s world: we take the name of Christ but live like Cain, like the world — completely unhitched from moral considerations, hence from any understanding of sin, and hence from salvation in any biblical sense of the word.
The character of our culture is increasingly like that of the culture of Cain and his descendants. Like them, we want to keep the name of God without the presence of God. Our culture bears a second likeness to Cain’s culture too.
Like Cain and his descendants, we have family values but without godly virtues. Listen again to Moses in Genesis 4:19. Notice that Cain’s descendants believed in marriage and family all right, but they redefined it contrary to God’s word. In just seven generations from Adam, marriage was changed from monogamy to polygamy. Sound familiar? Our culture is perpetuating “the family” but it is redefining “the family” contrary to God’s word. From virtually every quarter of our society, political correctness is pressuring society to accept as legal what God calls abominable.
But society at large is not the only victim of a moral shift. I’d ask you to consider the subtle but important changes that have crept into the marriage ceremonies of professing Christians. Today, it is not unusual to see a Christian husband’s headship turned into “government by intimidation.” In doing so, Christian husbands share a likeness to Lamech, Cain’s son. Consider Gen 4:23-24. When Lamech called on his wives (note the plural) to obey him because he had killed a boy who wounded him, he was governing his house by intimidation and thereby corrupting true headship. Christian husbands, how do you govern your house? If you govern by intimidation, you share a likeness to self-interested Lamech, not self-sacrificing Christ.
The character of our culture is increasingly like that of the culture of Cain and his descendants. Like them, we have family values but without godly virtues. Like them, we also want to keep the name of God without the presence of God. There is a third likeness between our culture and Cain’s.
Like Cain and his descendants, we seek beauty, community, and safety but without God’s altar. Notice Genesis 4:17, 20-24. The Cainites had their goods and service industries and musical craftsmen: suppliers of food and clothing, of tools and weapons, of musical instruments and song. They had their tents but no tent of meeting with God; they had cattle but no Lamb of God; they had milk but no milk of the word; they had meat but no meat of the word; they had clothes but not the white raiment of Christ’s righteousness. They sought beauty, community, and security without God’s altar. They had their silly little love songs, but without the sanctity of the Song of Songs. Lamech’s song sang a taunt song, much like too many pop songs of our day.
Christian parents and children today too often seek personal peace and prosperity, safety and beauty and community, in what’s hip rather than in what’s holy; in what’s popular, rather than in what’s pure; in what’s tolerant rather than in God’s truth; in what’s “the bomb” rather than in what’s blameless. We seek beauty in sight and sound without God’s altar. We seek community and security by the tools and weapons of the flesh but not the presence of the Spirit and the Word.
Where does the failure start? It begins at the altar. As believing parents, Adam and Eve had taught Cain and Abel concerning acceptable worship of the Lord their God. Faithful Abel and his worship were accepted; faithless Cain and his worship were rejected. When his worship failed, Cain lost beauty, security, and community too.
We have to ask ourselves, where do we as Christian parents and children seek community, safety, and beauty? In the world? We ought to find them in community with the living and true God, where He is worshipped in Spirit and in truth.
Like Cain and his descendants, we too often seek beauty, community, and safety apart from God’s altar. Like Cain and his descendants, we also have family values but without godly virtues. And, like Cain and his descendants, we want to keep the name of God without the presence of God. The character of our culture is increasingly like that of the culture of Cain and his descendants. There is a fourth likeness between our culture and Cain’s culture.
Like Cain and his descendants, we demand justice but without godly fear. Look again at Genesis 4:23. Cain’s son Lamech mocked God’s justice when boasting to his wives. Lamech exemplified a form of justice but without the restraint of God’s lex talionis. Increasingly, our culture, like Lamech, also mocks God’s government, wherever it is found, in the state and in the family. But we in the church also mock God’s government in the church. Governments do make errors, but there are people in our churches today who take vows to submit to the government of Christ’s church and who thumb their noses at that government when called to account before the church courts and when those courts don’t find in their favor. They, like Lamech, are mocking God’s government.
Like Cain and his descendants, we demand justice but without godly fear. Like Cain and his descendants, we want to keep the name of God without the presence of God. Like Cain and his descendants, we also have family values but without godly virtues. And, like Cain and his descendants, we seek beauty, community, and safety but apart from God’s altar. The character of our culture is increasingly like that of the culture of Cain and his descendants.
May God grant us repentance from the error of our ways.