Kingdom of God 2: The Confused Kingdoms We Create

Have you ever made a decision, started off on a course of action, and then suddenly realized that you made a huge mistake? I certainly have. Most of us have had that experience. When it comes to the human race, not only have some people rebeled against God and made bad decisions; but, from time to time, we all rebel and make bad decisions. This should not surprise us because after the story of Creation, comes the story of the Fall and of mistake after mistake by the human race. It is also the story of the mercy of a God of Love who never gives up on his creation.

Last week, we looked at the creation of the human race and God’s initial plan for the world and the human race. We were supposed to be God-connected, Christ-like, Spirit-Empowered humble stewards of a world of beauty, peace, and plenty. Instead, we tried to be our own god’s and became alienated from God and others, slaves to sin and brokenness.

Genesis 2 begins where Genesis 1 leaves off—with Adam in the Garden of Eden, naming the beasts and enjoying perfect fellowship with God. Then, to make man complete, God created a woman for the man to love and be loved by. The human family, the foundation of society, was created. Creation and the human race were off to a great start (Genesis 2). Unfortunately, before long the human race was tempted, rebeled against human limits, and Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden into the fallen, hostile, imperfect world (Genesis 3).

As the remainder of the first chapters of Genesis unfold, the human race becomes progressively more entrapped by sin and brokenness until finally God sends a great flood upon the whole earth, rescuing only Noah and his family (Genesis 5-9). After the flood, the children of Noah returned to the ways that got the human race into trouble in the first place, until finally we are told they attempted to make themselves like God once again building a tower to the heavens (Genesis 9-10). Secular human history, you see, is a story of rebellion, violence, and sin.

Building the Tower of Babel

Today, we are looking at the strange story of the Tower of Babel. Hear the Word of God as it comes to us from the book of Genesis, Chapter 11:1-9:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Flawed Human Family

It is a fundamental part of Biblical history that, from the beginning, the human race disobeyed God and brought judgment upon the human family. The human race was  made in the image of God (Genesis 1), intended to rule over the earth in fellowship with God and one another (Genesis 2), but tragically unable to maintain that fellowship and dependency on God Genesis 3).

Here is how the Bible tells the story: Along with human freedom comes the freedom to choose, and the human race chose to disobey God. As a result, Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden. Though Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden, and no longer enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God they enjoyed before the Fall, they prayed to God and remembered with longing their time in Paradise (Gen. 4:26). Adam and Eve, and every human being since, has had somewhere in their soul a deep desire to return to the innocence of the Garden and escape the power of sin. We desire to have healed our broken relationship with God, creation, and others.

Human beings have always understood that there is a price for sin and immoral behavior. The Jewish people also sensed that the human race required some kind of sacrifice to undo the impact of sin. The ancients understood that they were somehow alienated from God’s Love and Wisdom. Human beings, therefore, developed the habit of offering sacrifices, in hopes that the God they had angered might forgive them and show mercy. [1] Their sacrifices showed that that they believed in God, worshiped God, loved God and desired the blessings of God. They wanted to be restored to the fellowship they enjoyed in the Garden Innocence, and they were willing to sacrifice to restore that fellowship.

In time, Adam and Eve had a child, and Eve cried out, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man!” (Gen. 4:1). Adam and Eve thought that their first-born son, Cain, might be the one who would undo the curse and crush the head of the Serpent who had ruined everything in the Garden (Gen. 3:17). A little later, they had another son, Abel. Interestingly, Cain’s name means, “Spear” and Abel’s name means “Breath”.

The story of Cain and Abel is a story of jealousy and murder and the rise of human violence. One lesson of the story is that Cain was a man of violence, but Abel was a man of faith in whom the breath of God was active and alive.After a time, Cain took some of his grain and offered it to God (Gen. 4:3), and Abel, being a shepherd, offered some of the first fruits of his flocks (Gen. 4:4). The LORD God, looked with favor on the sacrifice of Abel, but he did not seem to accept Cain’s sacrifice with the same degree of favor. [2] You may ask, “How did they know?” I can’t really answer the question, because this matter of God’s accepting a sacrifice or a prayer is something you either feel in your heart or you do not. [3]

What can be said with certainty, is that Cain was fundamentally a person of violence, and that violence erupted against his brother. We have seen in the past two weeks, abundant evidence that the Spirit of Cain is alive and well in our society. We have seen at least two senseless cases of mass violence, and deluded people sought their moment in the sun at the expense of the lives of others. Whatever else we may say about these incidents, we can surely see that that the corruption in Cain’s soul is with us today.

Flawed Human History

There are consequences to sin and to murder, and there were consequences for Cain and for the rest of human history. Cain, like Adam and Eve was driven out of his home because he had shed his brother’s blood (Gen. 4:11). The earth and soil were cursed as they had been cursed for Adam because of his sin. But, even judgement, God showed mercy. He assured Cain of his protection as he left the presence of the LORD as had Adam and went out to the Land of Nod, which means, “Land of Wandering”. [4] Cain became a wanderer, and the human race has been wandering ever since. [5]

Like Adam and Eve, Cain had children. The Bible records seven of them—a perfect number (Gen. 4:17-18). I only want to mention one, Lamech, who himself became a murderer and even bragged about it, saying, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech is avenged seventy-seven times” (Gen 4:23-24).

From as far back as anyone can remember, the kingdoms of this earth, one way or another, have been established by violence and vengeance has been a curse upon the earth. One of the less attractive things we have seen about the current leadership of Russia is a habit of sending assassins to painfully murder those who have disappointed or opposed the leadership of the state. It is no coincidence that the same leadership has begun a violent and unnecessary war to extend its power.

Attempts to Be God

St. Augustine, wrote of the God-shaped void in every human heart—a void that makes us restless until we find our rest in God. [6] All of us experience that restlessness. I have and everyone I ever met has. Some people cover up their restlessness with pleasure. Others cover up their restlessness in a search for power. Some fill their God shaped void with pleasure. Some try to fill that void with possessions. Nothing short of God works

As far as politics and human society is concerned, the fall of the human race created a situation in which people tried over and over again to fill that void by being the rulers of creation without God instead of stewards of creation. The search for power is one of the enduring drivers of human history.

In the Bible, the story is one of increasing sin and violence, until God finally brought a judgement on the entire earth (Genesis 6). In the story of the flood, the human race is destroyed. Unfortunately, the children of Noah continued the same tradition as the children of Adam and Eve and of Cain. They tried to become God’s and create the same kind of kingdoms one gets when one tries to be God.

Finally, the human race continued their mistaken attempt to become little gods by building a tower to heaven, so that they could be gods themselves. God responded by disbursing the human race over the earth with many languages, in order that human beings have trouble understanding one another. (Some of speak the same language and still have trouble understanding one another!) We still suffer that curse. We human beings have trouble understanding one another—and we often do not even try.

Some scholars are critical of this story as evidence that the God of Israel was a petty and jealous God who wanted to deprive the human race of the opportunities to use its natural abilities. I do not see the story this way. What I think the story reflects and teaches is the inevitable chaos that we human beings create when we become proud and alienated from God—when we cease being stewards and try to become kings. Things always turn out badly. God wants us to use our natural abilities—in the way intended from the beginning.

A New “Pentecost Kingdom”

June 5 was Pentecost 2022, the Sunday on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early church. As we will learn in July, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples spent fifty days together in the Upper Room. Then, suddenly with thousands of vistotors present in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to speak in tongues. Here is how the New Testament describes the event:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoke (Acts 2:1-6).

Pentecost is the day on which we celebrate the beginning of a great reversal of the ancient curse of the Tower of Babel. The Spirit of Christ began to unwind the ancient divisions of the human race symbolized by our inability to understand one another. Christians call it the “Birthday of the Church” because Pentecost symbolizes the emergence of a new Kingdom to be created by God. This New Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom born of violence, but a Heavenly Kingdom of peace born of love. It is not a kingdom of confusion and misunderstanding but a kingdom of love and patient understanding. It is a kingdom our society needs desperately to experience anew.


The theme for these last two weeks is the “Kingdom of God,” a theme we will continue to explore as time goes by. Even now, we can see that humanity is, by itself and its own power not capable of creating the kind of Kingdom in which all human beings are equal, in which the earth is a kind of garden to supply every legitimate need of the human race, and in which governments are just. The problem is never really the “system of government.”

In the next few weeks, I will take a short look at the political philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr. [7] Beginning before the Second World War and until the 19760’s he represented a Christian political philosophy that did not forget the human condition and the way in which sin warps human beiges and societies. Interestingly, his thought was sometimes referred to as “Christian realism” to distinguish it from the sometimes overly-optimistic kind of Christian liberalism that the Social Gospel and various Christian liberal and utopian movements of his day.

I am not an uncritical fan of Niebuhr. His strength is that he could see at root our human problem,  the men and women who run every government, people who are unfortunately a great deal like us: selfish, self-centered, and given to acts of foolish pride. If there is to be a kingdom that fills the human need for justice, harmony, and peace, it will come not from our power, but from the power of God. It is the coming of that power that we celebrate on Pentecost. In this broken world, the people of God best serve our secular state when we are fully committed and active disciples—and when we live out the Gospel of Love and Wisdom in our own lives for all the world to see.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The story implies that sacrifices were already known at the time of Cain and Abel. Anthropologists believe that the practice of sacrificing to gods to secure their favor is nearly universal in human history. For a review of this phenomenon as it affects the Old Testament, see, R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1969): Part Six.

[2] The story dates from a time when sacrifice is already known. Hebrews were nomadic shepherds, and so some commentators have seen in this story the tension between farmers and nomadic shepherds—a conflict which has been explored from time to time in contemporary westerns which pit the farmer against the rancher who wants land to graze cattle upon. There may be some memory of this in the story, but it cannot be the basic point of the story. The story makes plain its basic point, which is the continuing and growing power of sin and violence in human history. See, Everett Fox, In the Beginning (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1983): 21. “Although this story may well have originated as a tale of enmity between two ways of life (farmer and shepherd), or in another context, it has obviously been transformed into something far more disturbing and universal.”

[3] Theologians have thought a lot about what made my sacrifice less acceptable than Abel’s. I do not think the fact that Cain offered grain and Abel offered meat from his sheep is the reason. Cain gave what he had; Abel gave what he had. I don’t think it is because God prefers shepherds to farmers. God loves everyone. I think that the key is in the comparison between what Cain brought—some of the grain—and what Abel brought—the best part of the first fruits of his flock (Genesis 4:2-4). David W. Spicer, OSB in “Genesis” in Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) 41. See also Driver in Westminster Commentaries Rev. & Enlarged ed (London, UK: Methuen & Co. 1926), 63

[4] See, E. A. Speiser, “Genesis” in the Anchor Bible (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Co., 1964): 30.

[5] It is significant that Cain cries out to God, “Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wander upon the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (See, Gen. 4:13-14). As his father was sent from the Garden to wander upon the earth, so Cain will wander all of his days.

[6] St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine tr. John K. Ryan (New York, NY: Image Books, 1960): 43

[7] See for example, Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral and Immoral Society: A Study in Christian Ethics and Politics Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1932, 2001.