but you must master it Genesis 4:7
Master – Everything important happens in the first three chapters of Genesis. Plus the appendix of the story of Cain. This verse is absolutely crucial. Why? Because it says something about the essence of the Fall that we absolutely must know. It says that sin did not destroy the nature of Man.
Read the story again. You probably think you know it, but I’m guessing that you haven’t really paid attention to all the details. After the Fall, Cain brings his sacrifice. It is rejected. We are not told why. Cain is angry and distressed. God comes to Cain and tells him that sin crouches at the door, ready to take possession of him (that is an important word too). God advises Cain to do what is right and everything will be just fine. Then God warns Cain to master his inner voice. What does this imply? It implies that Cain is able to do just what God says. It implies that Cain can make a choice to do what is right, that Cain has the ability to master (mashal) sin’s desire and that Cain’s offering will be accepted. It’s all up to Cain.
That seems entirely reasonable, doesn’t it? After all, it is clearly what the text says, it makes Cain responsible for his actions and it shows us that God responds to our real choices. It seems reasonable – until you start to read the history of theology. In that history you will find a theological concept called Total Depravity. This idea, popularized by John Calvin but developed more than 1000 years before Calvin, claims that when Man fell, his nature was totally corrupted. From that point on, nothing that Man did could be considered good. In fact, Man did not have the ability to make right choices. He was cursed with a sinful nature that made choosing the way of God impossible. He was forever trapped in evil intentions and actions. He had no way out except by God’s act of grace. Total depravity leads to the doctrine of sinful nature, a concept imported into the translation of the NIV and other Bibles. It suggests that no matter what Man does, it is worthless and morally corrupt without the intervention of the Savior. The bottom line of this theological stance is this: in the Fall Man lost his ability to choose God.
That doesn’t seem to square with this text, does it? It certainly looks like God expects Cain to control himself and do what is right. But if Cain as a fallen man is totally depraved, then this is a charade and a sham. Cain cannot choose what is right and God is just playing with him. Something doesn’t add up.
Lest you think that this is just theological jargon and really doesn’t affect you, consider what happens to the idea of evangelism under the doctrine of total depravity. First, it means that every non-believer must be rescued by any means necessary. Evangelism becomes intervention focused on winning souls, not building relationships. All that is required is to get the non-believer to cross the line into a saved state. Secondly, it means that no good done by any non-believer really has any value at all. In fact, all non-believers are inherently worthless. They are not even capable of morally correct choices. Unless God intervenes, they are eternally lost. Therefore, while I may be called to present the gospel as the only real solution to life, I don’t have any further obligation toward these people. Their minds are corrupt, so unless God brings about understanding, there is nothing more for me to do.
Evangelism from this perspective is proclamation without relationship. It is announcement of the non-believer’s darkened state of existence, the delivery of saving information and justified disengagement. I give the message but God has to save. And I can deliver the message as a tract, a billboard, a television commercial or any other information-transfer mechanism. Actually building relationships is unnecessary. That’s not my job (and they are incapable of understanding anyway).
Isn’t it strange that Yeshua seems to have never taken this path? His life revolved entirely around relationships – deep and abiding ones. Do you suppose that we got off track somewhere along the way?
Topical Index: Evangelism, Depravity, Choice, mashal