W. H. Chellis
My Brotherâ€™s Keeper?
Why donâ€™t Christians just mind their own business? Why donâ€™t you keep your laws off my body? Who is hurt by the marriage of a committed homosexual couple? What extremely post-modern questions. As much as these questions sound like the hip banter coming from a table at your local Starbucks they are far from new. Such questions are nearly as old as the race. The sense of them was first uttered by Cain, eldest son of our first father Adam. Consumed by an angry jealousy, Cain rose up and slew his brother Abel. In response, God confronted Cain with a direct question. The LORD said to Cain, â€œWhere is Able your brother?â€ Smugly, Cain responded with a question of his own, â€œAm I my brotherâ€™s keeper (Genesis 4:8,9)?â€
Post-modern Western society is committed to the proposition that everyone has a right to sin with impunity. That is, every individual may sin as much as he likes as long as his sins do not bring actual harm to those around them. Harm is measured by the non-spiritual dogmas of secular humanism. No concern is raised for offending the holiness of God. No worry is caste for distorting Godâ€™s image in our fellow man. No precaution is heeded to protect the integrity of the immortal soul. In such an environment, the churchâ€™s proclamation of righteousness, sin, and judgment is met with the suspicious retort, â€œwho made you your brotherâ€™s keeper?â€
The Solidarity of Mankind
Liberal theology used to wax eloquent about the universal brotherhood of men. While conservative Christians rightly reject liberalismâ€™s argument for mankindâ€™s universal brotherhood, we should not so overreact as to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, the Bible teaches us that, in Adam, all mankind is united in a true and natural union.
Mankind is united in a true and natural union. It is a natural union because of our common descent from Adam (Acts 17:26). Our first father Adam stood as the font of humanity. The entire essence of the race proceeded from his loins. Thus, all of humanity, crowned by the glory of the Divine image, was comprehended in the natural life of Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).
As Eve was taken from Adamâ€™s side, forged from his own rib, all of the genetic material common to the race was to be found in him. Yet, in Godâ€™s condescension, the unity of mankind in Adam transcends the bond of blood. As the covenantal, federal representative of the race, Adam was also the font of the divine image for the race of men. Theologian Herman Bavinck notes:
Not as a heap of souls on a tract of land, not as a loose aggregate of
individuals, but as having been created out of one blood; as one household and
one family, humanity is the image and likeness of God. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation Vol. Two; Ed. John Bolt (Baker Academic: 2004), pg. 577).
Further, as federal head of the race, Adam was endowed with the responsibility of representative headship over the whole of mankind (Romans 5:12-19). As the old New England Primer declared, â€œin Adamâ€™s fall, we sinned all.â€
Because of Adamâ€™s sin, the present experience of the human race is one of anger, hatred, lust, and rebellion. Depravity is our natural inheritance. This inheritance passed from Adam to posterity by way of â€œordinary generationâ€. The book of Genesis recounts how Adam bequeathed this unhappy inheritance to his children, â€œWhen Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth (Gen. 5:3).â€ Thus, Adam, created upright in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness had fallen into a natural state of blindness, distortion, and corruption. From a state of natural depravity, Adam brings forth children bearing the twisted image of their earthly father.
The Solidarity of Israel
The unity of the race was not destroyed by sin or by time. Rather, united in depravity, mankind multiplied until, arrogantly rising up against God Himself (Gen. 11:1-4), they were supernatural divided by language and separated by geography (Gen. 11-5-9). The nations were thereby divided by tongue (language), blood (race) and soil (geography). These divisions obscure the ultimate unity of mankind but are themselves not sinful. Rather, against the danger posed by mankindâ€™s zeal for violent tyranny, divinely established national, cultural, and linguistic divisions are a blessing. God was graciously preserving us from our own propensity toward civil barbarity.
Although these divisions obscure our unity, they do not destroy it. Rather, the unity of mankind remains very real. Although divided because of sin, mankind continues to reflect a visible solidarity within families, communities, and nations. In an earlier article, we noted that nations (inclusive of families, communities, towns, counties, states, ectâ€¦) are moral persons. That is, far more than the sum of their parts (a loose association of disconnected individuals) they are an organic whole responsible to God for their common life together. Thus fathers exercise federal authority over the family, community elders (Nobles, Councilmen, ect.) exercise federal authority over the community, and national leaders (Kings, Presidents, Senators, ect) exercise federal authority over the nation.
The Scriptures teach that Abraham was the father, head, and founder of the nation of Israel. His covenantal relationship with God was determinative for posterity. While Israel was united by their common descent from father Abraham, the Scriptures teach that this union surpassed the reality of common descent. Rather, national Israel was a moral person in which every member was an integral part of an organic whole. While the sins of kings could be imputed to the people (2 Samuel 24:15), so the sins of the people were imputed to kings. The story of Achenâ€™s sin reminds us that the sin of an individual could be visited upon the nation as a whole (Joshua 7:1, 10-12). Thus, during the conquest of Canaan, following the fall of Jericho, lowly Achen sinned by talking hold of looted contraband that God had declared to be â€œdevoted to destruction (Joshua 6:18).â€ Through the sin by which Achen had identified himself (and his household) with the devoted things, all of Israel had become a thing devoted for destruction (Josh. 7:12). Only national repentance and just punishment of the crime could propitiate the fierce anger of the LORD (vs. 13-26).
The Solidarity of Nations
Of course, owing to the nature of the Israelite theocracy, the example of Achen is extraordinary. Yet, the theocratic nature of Israel should not blind us to the moral principles involved. In fact, the experience of non-theocratic nations differs only because of Godâ€™s condescension to deal with them in common grace flowing from the mediatorial Kingship of Jesus Christ. In fact, the bible teaches that God deals with non-theocratic nations according to the same principles of solidarity. The book of Jonah bears witness to the solidarity between rulers and ruled as the pagan city of Nineveh is brought to corporate repentance through a proclamation of the king and nobles (Jonah 3:7-10). As for the moral unity between individual sins and corporate responsibility, Abimelechâ€™s rebuke to the patriarch Isaac stands as a warning. After Isaac sought to pass off his beautiful wife Rebekah as his sister, Abimelech declares, â€œWhat is it that you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us (Genesis 26:10).â€
Therefore, we return to our original question, â€œwho made you your brotherâ€™s keeper?â€ The biblical answer can be found in the words of Christ who reminds us that we are to love our neighbor with our whole heart, even when that neighbor is a stranger whom we have never met (Matt. 22:39; Luke 10:29-37).