Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cain's Plight

Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. Later they had a son named Seth, but the story of strife between these two brothers is the famous first example of murder among mankind, and they're really the only two people I think of as second generation human beings. I'm forced to realize that this is far from the truth - that there were likely hundreds of offspring from Adam and Eve in this second generation - when I get to verse 14 of chapter 4.

This is after Cain has killed Abel and God has banished him to wander the earth, which will also no longer produce fruit for him as punishment for his crime. This seems a pretty fitting, if not lenient, punishment for inventing murder. Of course, today we're all-too familiar with homicide and it's not a stretch to understand the implications of exile; separation from home, family, and familiarity. But this was more severe still, because cultivating the soil to bear fruit was Cain's livelihood. It was his work, his profession, his method of providing for his family, and the trade he learned from his father, Adam. This was among the very first learned behaviors between one of the very first father/son relationships. In only two generations of human existence there's hardly such a thing as heritage, but this was about as close as it gets. Fittingly, Cain has been deprived of it.

Anyway, at verse 14 Cain petitions God on his own behalf, claiming that this punishment to wander the earth would cause "whoever finds" him to kill him. God responds by putting a mark on him and announcing that whoever might kill Cain would be avenged seven times over. Needless to say we don't hear anything about Cain being harassed after that. But it was here that I realized Cain had other people to worry about on the earth.

At the time of Cain's sentencing, humanity consisted of much more than the happy little four-person nucleus of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel as I had always pictured. Adam lived a total of 930 years and he was 130 when Eve gave birth to their only other named son in the Bible, Seth - after Abel's murder (Gen. 4:25, 5:3). So Adam could have been 129 or 130 years old already at the time Cain's exile, meaning that it's physically possible for the first of his offspring to have been 128 or 129 years old as well. If Eve never delivered twins or multiples and had about one child per year until this time (remember, it was their job to multiply and populate the earth), then there could have been up to 127 other second-generation humans with Cain and Abel. Assuming the age of 14 before any of these offspring were fertile themselves, there could have been as many as 3348 third-generation human beings at this time (following the logic of a 50% female population and a reproduction rate of one child per year after age 14). These women could have turned out a total of 3477 first, second, and third generation humans for Cain to be concerned with at the time of his exile. Not to mention any fourth, fifth, or sixth generations in even larger populations, the oldest of which could have been 87 years old already. This means roughly tens of thousands of people at risk of judging or killing Cain as a wanderer on the earth.

All this to say that I was originally confused about why Cain was concerned for his safety, but there was obviously more happening on the earth than I originally pictured. Understanding this moderate estimate of reproduction rates and population growth also helps me with the picture of everybody "marrying" or "laying with" people who could not have been farther in blood relation than a first cousin. I guess when the numbers so quickly reach that of a moderately sized rural American county, kissing your sister isn't quite so much like kissing your sister anymore.

I'm still confused by the issue of gene pool diversity, but you've gotta start somewhere, right?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Beginning

So, the Bible starts with the book of Genesis, which roughly means "Origin" or "Beginning"; a fitting book title for what is essentially the first chapter of a larger story. The first words are "In the beginning..." and it goes on to relay the story of creation. I would have said that it goes on to describe creation, but the story isn't terribly descriptive.

There might be a practical reason for this -- that it was written by Moses, a man, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years after the event (depending on how you interpret God's timeline and method of creation). So this is not an eyewitness account. However, the telling of this story is the inspired Word of God. And by inspired of course I mean intimately present and somehow cooperatively penned; an interaction between divinity and humanity. This is somewhat a mystery of spiritual truth. Although, not so mysterious, in that God uses people to speak Truth to one another all the time. The Bible is simply an uncompromised collection of such examples throughout history. So, by divine revelation God could have chosen to provide more detail about creation, but He didn't.

I think God tells us just as much by what He chooses not to say, as He tells us by what He says. This may be exactly the point... read on.

In any case, it begins "In the beginning..." and I find myself looking for the missing details; asking the question "the beginning of what, exactly?" Now of course, millenia later, we know that this is at least the beginning of a book, which Moses would have known as well. I doubt, however, that Moses knew quite the scope and gravity of the book he began; where it would go, or that we would all be reading it today. But it goes on to tell about God's creation, right? Well, the creation of what, exactly? It can't just be the creation of life, because He starts the story before the creation of life. Is it the beginning of all physical matter? Maybe the beginning of purpose and organization for physical matter. If God, by way of Moses, means to tell us of 'the beginning,' I can't help but wonder; what was before the beginning? What, exactly, did not exist until the beginning?

If the spiritual world (in which God exists, along with Satan, heaven, hell, angels, demons, and all beings unencumbered by physical bodies) is not bound by what we know as time, then perhaps 'the beginning' marks the very first moment of measurable, sequential events. Maybe this was the initial foray into an existence organized by sequence; the invention of that construct that makes human sanity possible -- the infrastructure that is inescapable and infinitely frustrating, but by which we organize all human existence. Maybe the creation of time itself is truly God's first known work toward mankind. Perhaps before 'the beginning' there was no such thing as beginning or end, first, second, or third, before or after, early or late. Maybe God was everything all at once and there was nothing else before the beginning. Maybe God simply was.

Now, I understand the Bible to be nothing more than the story of the relationship between God and man. In truth, I believe this to be the very same story that continues today (thanks to the continued success of time), and the only story with consequence. All the other stories that take place in our lives are only relevant to the extent that they relate to this story. Every human life represents a profound story full of daily sagas, decades-long sub-plots and all kinds of recurring themes. Moreover, each human life story is a microcosm of the Human story -- all human behavior across geography, era, and culture. While it all seems so insurmountably vast - the sum total of human experience - the only relevance or consequence toward the purpose of humanity is defined by the story of the relationship between God and man. Even the rise and fall of empires are but shifting sands relative to this one story. A story that starts "In the beginning," and has not yet concluded.

Back to my question; what was before the beginning? Irrelevance.