The Problem with People

The Problem with People

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. Genesis 4:7

In East of Eden, John Steinbeck used today’s passage as the inspiration and central theme for his epic novel. Addressed to his two young sons, Steinbeck wanted to pass along this life lesson: We may live under a curse of inherited evil, but we’re not destined to live according to it. It won’t be easy, but we can choose good (my paraphrase). The novel revolves around a discussion of the Hebrew word Timshel (or rather Timshol or Mashal) from today’s passage, which means – Cain may (has the capacity to) overcome sin. The message of the passage, and the theme of the novel, is that we all have some struggle with evil, but we don’t have to live enslaved to it. Our nature is inherently corrupt, but we can overcome it, choosing to be something better.

As one who’s struggled with a terribly self-destructive appetite, I’ve wrestled with this concept. I never chose, and no one had to teach me, to desire unhealthy food, illicit sex, or drugs. I’ve just always had an appetite for that which isn’t good for me. Evil has crouched at my door, lying in wait. The problem is that evil is inherently attractive. I want it, and frankly, it doesn’t appear evil at the time. It’s not like I’m robbing a bank or murdering anyone. I’m just doing what it takes to relax . . . with a handful of pills. The problem of course, is that if I don’t rule my appetite, it rules me, seeking my destruction. In my destruction, I once cried out: Why did you make me like this God? I’m destined to fail. This is your fault!

God’s message to Cain though, is his message to us. You don’t have to live in misery, enslaved to your corrupt nature. If you follow me, you can know life, joy, and peace. Cain was just one generation removed from Adam and Eve’s original sin and genetic curse, but that evil’s power is no less potent to us, generations later. We’ve all inherited a deeply flawed nature. At the core, our problem is this – We inherently want to follow our will instead of God’s. This is our daily choice. We can daily choose to abandon self and follow God, or we can follow self, inviting misery and destruction. The easiest path of course, is to do nothing, thereby following self simply by default, which is God’s definition of evil. Following God, doing what’s right, is the difficult daily choice that he asks us to continuously and consciously make.

We all struggle with a self-destructive nature, but we don’t have to live enslaved to it. In following God, we can escape our corruption, becoming all that he made us to be.

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