I woke up this morning reflecting on Sunday’s post, specifically Genesis 4:1 where it says, “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.””
Two things struck me. The first was that “Cain” means “to get or acquire” or “gotten one”. Eve had gotten this manchild with the help of the Lord. Why would she say such a thing if she’d “gotten” children before? And why would the Holy Spirit have Moses record it?
Secondly, the significance of the idea of getting or acquiring. It occurred to me that the very first act Adam and the woman performed after the fall was one of human good: seeing they were naked, they tried to make things right between themselves by covering themselves with fig leaves. By this act they sought to get or acquire reconciliation. Peace. Normality.
Then, after the fall and leaving the garden, the action first noted by the Holy Spirit as being displeasing to God is also an act of human good performed by the one whose name means “to get or acquire”. Cain offered the work of his hands, the fruits and vegetables, products of the earth instead of the blood of the slain lamb he was supposed to have offered.
(This is indicated by God’s rebuke in vs 6,7; and by the precedent set by God’s provision of the animal skins for Adam and the woman in Gen 3:21 — skins mean an animal had to die for them to be covered, a perfect metaphor for the work of Christ on the cross).
Trying to substitute his own works and efforts for what God had already provided not only showed Cain’s unbelieving state, but also something that I think is the underpinning of human depravity: human good. The desire to get or acquire God’s favor by one’s own effort or merits or righteousness.
Cain’s sins of jealousy, anger and murder came afterward in reaction to the failure of his plan and the thwarting of his desire. (Though technically I suppose that the arrogance underpinning the very idea of human good is the real depravity. It just doesn’t look depraved.)
So many make such a big deal out of sin, but it’s really human good and independence from God that’s the problem. Jesus already paid for everyone’s sins and no one will be judged for them in the end. Instead, they’ll be judged by their deeds. Were they righteous deeds, performed in the power of the Spirit by a perfect individual, or where they human good?
That tree of the knowledge of good and evil… that wasn’t the knowledge of divine good. They already knew about divine good, because they’d been walking with God every day in the cool of the evening. No, that good was human good, which is a part of evil.
And yet, it looks so good. It feels so good. It feels so right. It is so darned hard to see someone who is sweet and nice and “loving” and doing all these nice things as being a wicked sinner. Human good does not seem gross to us, but in God’s eyes it is as filthy menstrual rags. (Is 64:6 )
I think human good is one of the biggest obstacles not just to admitting you need a savior and believing in Christ, but to really living the Christian way of life.
“Woe to those who call evil good…who substitute darkness for light…” Is 5:20
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Pro 14:12; 16:25
“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.” Pro 21:2
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” I Cor 3:11-13
The problem of human good doesn’t get near enough the attention that it should. And that suits the enemy just fine…