ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 17, 2016
WHO DID WHAT?!
Genesis 6: 1 – 7; Luke 17: 22 – 37
My mother was born in a lovely, small town in Italy which is over 1000 years old when it was a remote village surrounded by mountains. Like most small towns its gene pool isn’t too deep. Everyone is related to everyone else. Our first impressions were of a depressed, unfriendly group of people who looked upon us with suspicion. No doubt they were wondering why on earth anyone would visit there. As I looked at the worn, unhappy faces of the people, I thought, “These are my relatives! We share the same DNA. Their blood courses through my veins. I will never go on the TV show “Who do you think you are?” I know too much already! Thank goodness my mother got out of here and married my Dad with his Scots-Irish heritage or I’d have had 13 toes.”
Our question today also asks about an interesting blend of DNA. “What does it mean in Genesis 6: 2 when we read, “…the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose”? Excellent question. I too have read that and gone “what!” It’s a passage that makes us do a double take. “Who did what to whom? Did we read that correctly?” Unfortunately we did and our first question is: who are these ‘sons of God’? Are they human beings, celestial beings or the direct progeny of God as Jesus was? Different scholars have different theories. Given scripture makes it clear Jesus was God’s “only begotten son” (John 3: 16) we will quickly rule out Jesus having heavenly siblings. That leaves us with the choice between humans and other beings. Some scholars argue that the daughters of humans were the sinful offspring of the descendants of Adam and Eve’s first son Cain – temptresses who seduced the sons of God who were the holy offspring of Seth (son #3). This may seem defensible because Seth’s line culminated with Noah who is described as a righteous, blameless man who pleased God. However, this idea contradicts the doctrine of “original sin” which states that all people, male and female, are born in a state that is separated from God or “depraved” as Calvin said. It also doesn’t explain why, of all Seth’s many descendants, only Noah and his family were righteous enough to please God. If Seth’s line were the holy “sons of God” why wasn’t the entire clan saved in the flood? A second theory is that the phrase refers to the Rulers and offspring of other nations who were said to be “divine”. Pharaoh was believed to be the son of the Egyptian deity Re while the Greek “god” Zeus was said to have conceived with the human woman Alcmene who then bore the super-human “god-man” Hercules. Since these beliefs aren’t real, we can probably skip that theory. My theory is that these “sons of God” were aliens and this was the first alien abduction – it could happen! The fourth and most probable explanation is that “the sons of God” refer to angels or some form of heavenly being. This would be in keeping with other scriptures (Job 1:6, 2:1; & 38:7; Psalm 89: 6; 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude vs. 6) that use the same phrase to describe angelic beings who fell from grace due to their rebellion against God. So the phrase “sons of God” does not describe beings that were the actual, physical progeny of God but beings of the heavenly realm. “The daughters of men” is self-explanatory. So these heavenly beings lusted after the earthly women and “took wives for themselves of all that they chose.” (Genesis 6:2) In these polygamous relationships, they “went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them” (vs. 4). We are told that “these were the heroes of old; warriors of renown.” (vs. 4) In other words the offspring of these celestial-human relations were a type of superhuman with greater than normal human size, strength, power and/or ability. X-men if the X-men weren’t mutant weirdos.
The greater question however is: why did the writer of Genesis include this strange little story? Well, the first 11 chapters of Genesis are “pre-history” meaning they pre-date the history of the Israelites which begins in Genesis 12 with God’s call to Abram. Through Abram God starts a special nation which is chosen by God to be the means by which a Saviour will enter the world to rescue and redeem humanity and all creation. The chapters prior to #12 tell the story of God’s amazing act of Creation and how that creation goes from being good to being sinful: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. (vs. 5) Within the pre-history 5 stories are told. Each one follows a pattern; there’s a sin, a consequence, a sign and a grace.
The first story tells of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve chose to disobey the boundaries God set for them by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which set loose the power of sin. The consequence is labour: for the woman in child-birth and for the man in hard work. Yet God loves them still and the sign of his love is the gift of pelt clothing. God’s grace is shown in an odd way – they are exiled from the Garden and an angel with a flaming sword is sent to guard the Tree of Life. This is a grace because it ensures that sin will not become an eternal state and leaving the way open for God to address the sinful state of humanity.
The writer of Genesis describes the domino effect of sin. In the next story Cain sins by murdering his brother Abel in a jealous rage. The consequence is a nomadic existence in exile. God’s sign is a sign: God places a mark on Cain to keep him safe. By grace, God gives Eve another son whom she names “Seth” which means “compensation”.
We then come to today’s story. The point is this: not only did sin corrupt humanity, it poured over into the ruin of all Creation, until even those in the court of God “did not keep their own position” (Jude vs. 6). In breeding with mortal women they crossed the boundary God had set between the realms of heaven and earth. They mingled the “super-human” with the mere mortal. So, God limited the lifespan of the off-spring of these unions to 120 years. The sign of God’s love was “…it grieved [God] to his heart. (vs. 5 & 6) God’s grace was allowing the life-breath of his Spirit to remain in this new nation.
By this time humanity had become so corrupted by sin that God was “… sorry that I made them” (vs 7). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) God decided his only option was to “blot out all living things I have created from the face of the ground…” (Genesis (6:7) This cleansing was to come in a flood. “But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord” (vs. 8) So God, in his mercy, spared the life of Noah and preserved his creatures in an Ark. God’s grace comes in the form of a covenant “… never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:11) The sign of that covenant is the rainbow.
However sin continued to abound and within a few short generations people were at it again. They built a city with a tower “To make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11: 4) God was disturbed by the new found power and independence of humankind so the consequences of this action was that the common language they spoke was “confused” so they couldn’t understand each other or communicate. They are scattered over the earth. However the story ends there. No sign of love, no grace.
This is our gene pool. We’re caught in this hamster wheel of sin and none of us can jump off. Every choice only makes us run faster. We are tempted to fix our problem. Maybe we can become like God. Or perhaps if we murder the competition God will accept us instead. Maybe we can rise above our humanity and become super-human. Hitler may have failed to create a superior race but we can weed out weakness through abortion or breed it out with sperm donors of superior intellect or physical prowess. We are getting better at genetic manipulation. We can replace human parts with man-made devices; maybe one day we’ll be bionic people. Or maybe we can skip the human part and go for artificial intelligence. At the same time we can make a name for ourselves. Such attempts to save ourselves do not address the core problem of sin. There’s a break in the relationship between ourselves and God. So we search for a sign of God’s love and hope for grace. Ultimately it’s not found in those first 11 chapters of Genesis. We need to turn the page to discover the turning point in history. In his grace, God created a second covenant with Abraham promising to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation who would be “blessed to be a blessing”. That covenant came to its fullness in the true and only Son of God. The sign of God’s love is the cross. The grace is the empty tomb. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift (the grace) of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). Or as C.S. Lewis put it, “The Son of God became human so that humans could become children of God.”