Making Everything an Art Form
It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is an expression that seeks to level what is an apparent contrast to a mere subjective perspective. You like Coke and I like Pepsi. You like Modern Art and I like Realism. You like Country music and I prefer Rock. It is all a matter of personal taste. Let’s not fight over such subjective determinations.
But have we not glorified diversity and subjectivity today to such an extent that there is no longer a way of determining what is good and what isn’t, what is proper and what is inappropriate, what is beautiful and what is just plain ugly? At what point do we move from the valid expression of creativity to the evil demonstration of human depravity? I believe that the events of the last few weeks in our country have evidenced a clear crossing of the line. Ten people were killed in a violent act of white supremacy in a Buffalo grocery store. Twenty-one were murdered in an elementary school in Texas without a discernable explanation. Neither of these are legitimate expressions of personal beliefs but both of them demonstrate the elevation of killing to an art form. How did we get here?
Another commonly heard statement is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. There is obvious truth expressed here as triggers don’t pull themselves. So where did all this killing start?
The Bible records the very first murder shortly after Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden. The Scripture tells us that they had two sons and that “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8). The cause of the killing is the focus of the first part of the chapter and then the story continues to show killings progression.
To make sense out of the account it must be acknowledged that God is present. He is the world’s provider of all good things, and as such is to be worshiped. This is the clear message of Genesis 1-3. So it is natural that some recognition of this relationship should be given and indeed both Cain and Abel bring to God an offering of worship. Worship is the proper expression of one’s heart to God. It says that God was pleased with Abel’s heart but “did not look with favor”on Cain (Genesis 4:5). Already Cain was out of proper relationship to God and being called on it only heightened his anger. His response to God was given expression in the fact that he then killed his brother out of some form of jealousy. There is no confusion in the story. The expression of this anger was labeled “sin” (Genesis 4:7). Indeed, Jesus would say the same thing himself with regard to misplaced anger. “You have heard that it was said… ‘Do not murder’… I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). There should be no ambiguity with regard to those who murder. They are responsible for their actions.
As Genesis 4 continues, however, we see the development of killing as an art form. Cain is punished by God, cursed and driven away as a restless wanderer. But he is not killed. As he wandered he raised a family and no doubt there were some good qualities that surfaced in the generations that followed. We are told of advances in architecture, of agriculture, of music, and of metal work. It is the last skill that I note in particular as it is described as one who “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” (Genesis 4:22). The literal word for “forged” is “a sharpener.” Some commentators see this as not merely the development of tools but of the making of weapons. This idea connects topically then to the song that follows which escalates the justification for mass killing. Lamech now sings, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times” (Genesis 4:23-24).
What does this song mean? “Weapons gave him a feeling of strength, which, in turn, led him to defy boldly everything and everyone. Boiling up within him was an unbridled spirit of revenge at the slightest affront to his honor…. He will kill any man who wounds him. He will slaughter any child who strikes him… This speaks of excessive and unlimited execution of revenge” (G.C. Aalders, Genesis, Vol. 1., p. 133). This, the first recorded song in the Bible, is like “gangsta rap,” the poetic glorification of gratuitous violence.
I am not a politician. I do not have a plan to propose to Congress. But I do believe that mass killings involve more than one responsible person. I believe we have with the development of more lethal guns, escalated killing into an art form. But I do not believe that a gun that can kill thirty people in thirty seconds is a thing of beauty regardless of who holds it his hands.
The only hopeful word in Genesis 4 is the last verse. “At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26). Perhaps the cries of the people went up to God because they had no place else to turn after witnessing some senseless and horrific act of violence. I wonder when we as a people will also begin to call on his name. He is the only hope that this world has for peace and justice.
See you in Worship.