This is a stunning statistic: There have been more mass shootings than days in this year. As of December 1 (day 335), there were 385 mass shootings that took place in the US. In the last 72 hours, two more have occurred at naval bases.
Which immediately reminded me of an interesting detail from the early pages of Genesis. When someone talks about “original sin” (which isn’t a term the story uses, btw) they are usually referencing the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis 3. The whole Tree-of-the-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil episode, with the talking snake. You know, normal stuff.
Anyway, the fascinating detail, at least to me, is that the word “sin” never appears in Genesis 3. It just isn’t there. Neither is “disobedience” or “fall.” The first mention of sin in the Bible is found in Genesis 4, in the story of the first murder. Cain, the farmer, invites his younger brother Abel, the shepherd, out to the field, where he kills him. If we rewind this story a bit, we come across the first mention of sin in the Bible.
After they make sacrifices, Cain of his crops and Abel of his flock, the relationship begins to unravel. Cain’s offering isn’t acceptable to the God character in the story, but Abel’s is. Then we read:
Cain became very angry and looked resentful. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:5b-7, CEB
There it is. God tells Cain, “…sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike.” Sin is like a cat waiting to pounce, but God adds that Cain doesn’t have to become its prey. “You must rule over it,” God says.
In this story, what is the original sin? Eating some fruit? Disobeying an instruction? No. The original human sin, in this story, is violence. Cain, in the next verse, invites Abel out into the field, and the rest is (mythic) history.
This original sin leads to a domino effect, a cascade of deepening violence. Cain’s story is now tied to escalatory violence.
“Anyone who kills Cain will be paid back seven times.” (v.15b)
Later, a descendant of Cain will say (technically sing):
I killed a man for wounding me,
a boy for striking me;
so Cain will be paid back seven times
and Lamech seventy-seven times.” (v.23b-24)
Violence begets violence. The world becomes such a violent place that, in one of the accounts of the Great Flood, the God character sends the deluge because,
In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11, CEB)
Violence is the original human sin. One way of reading the Flood text is to see it as a warning: when human violence escalates, life as we know it is in peril.
In this season of expectation, longing, and waiting that we call Advent, may we hear the call for peace. May we remember the warning Cain did not heed. May we seek to “beat [our] swords into iron plows and [our] spears into pruning tools.” May we use our creativity, not to destroy, but to heal. God will not do it for us, but the promise of Christmas is that God will do it with us.