The Cainite Civilisation
A godless society may mean different things. A civilisation based on gods of men's own imaginings; a civilisation in which the true God is worshipped in the wrong way; or a completely secular society, based on the postulate of the fool, “There is no God.” In this last, theoretical atheism is applied with ruthless logic to every area of human life. Man aspires to self-sufficiency. God is excluded. He is neither feared nor worshipped. His directives are disregarded and His threats and promises ignored. This is the explicit posture of Marxist societies. But it is also increasingly the posture of the western democracies which owe so much to Christianity. We choose our politicians, we frame our legislation, we enact sanctions, we determine national priorities, without reference to God. We run our industry, our commerce, our trade unions and even our educational system in the same way.
The prototype of all such humanistic societies is the Cainite civilisation described in Genesis 4:16-24. After the murder of his brother, Cain, rather than seek forgiveness through confession and prayer, deliberately goes out from the presence of the Lord. It is very instructive to look at the civilisation which ensued.
Its most obvious feature was its technical and cultural progress. It originates metal working. It originates the playing of the harp and the lyre. It writes poetry. It is godless, but neither technically backward nor philistine. The secular society will usually pour the whole of its energy into technology and culture, unhindered by the fear of God and often undisturbed by humanitarian concern. Consequently it will almost invariably excel in these areas, just as the civilisations of Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome excelled, on the worldly level, that of Israel. But the technical achievement carries its own dangers. Even the cultural is easily perverted in the interests of cruelty and arrogance, as Lamech's song indicates and as the enslavement of contemporary art to a philosophy or meaninglessness and despair clearly underlines. With technology the danger is even more pressing. The metal working skill is soon diverted to the manufacture of weapons of war. Indeed, Lamech's song looks very much like that of a man intoxicated with his reflections on the murderous capabilities of recent discoveries. Man without God remains capable of great economic and artistic achievement. But his technology is characteristically dedicated to self-aggrandisement and his art to denigration and impurity.
The second feature of this godless civilisation is its moral failure. Not for the last time, technical prowess and cultural endeavour co-exist with spiritual weakness. The secular society is especially impatient of God's marriage-ordinance. Lamech is a bigamist and his descendants polygamists. The result – as of permissiveness, promiscuity and facile divorce – is uncertainty, pain, anguish and division at the very heart of family life. Domestic unhappiness is probably as characteristic of the godless society as economic strength or artistic achievement.
Another area of moral failure is indicated in Lamech's song. It breathes a spirit of wild, arrogant and inhumane vindictiveness. He will requite wrongs not according to sober and equitable laws, but according to his own prowess and the dictates of wounded pride. Not for him an eye for an eye or a life for a life. He will be avenged seventy-seven fold, though the injury be but a scratch and the offender but a lad. The godless society has no logical basis for law and order. It is full or men like Lamech, arrogant, violent, competitive, vengeful and self-assertive. Each pursues his own interest and since the different interests are incompatible secures it only at the cost of his fellow's. The result is polarisation and violence, the confrontation of individual with individual and group with group. This is the rock on which our now secular democracy threatens to founder.
The third feature of the godless society is its loss of direction. Cain goes off into the land of Nod, which means literally “the land of wandering.” The name is deliberately chosen because it epitomises the plight of a secular civilisation. The glory of God is our chief end. The enjoyment of God is our highest good. The revelation of God is our supreme rule. If we abandon these, what hope have we of cohesion, predictability and fulfilment? The Cainite civilisation stumbles downwards from the murder of Abel through the arrogance of Lamech to the calamity of the Flood. Today, we stagger on, uncertain as to our roles and totally confused as to standards of behaviour. We move from fashion to fashion, from panacea to panacea, from one easy option to another, euphoria alternating with despair. Our lives seem to have neither centres nor destinations: “Thou hast made us for thyself and our heart is restless until it rests in thee.”
The alternative to the Cainite civilisation is briefly indicated in Genesis 4:25-26. The hope of the world lies not with the strong, resourceful and talented Cainites, but with the Sethites, whose society differs radically from the one we have been looking at.
First of all, their attitude to their fellow men is completely different from that of Cain and Lamech.
This is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.1 John 3:11-12
In the Sethite, Jehovahist and Christian society man is regarded as the image of God and it is recognised that man must love his neighbour as he loves himself.
Secondly, the Sethites called on the name of the Lord. They did not regard themselves as self-sufficient. They saw their dependence on God and organised their economic, cultural and social lives accordingly, acknowledging Him, worshipping Him and endeavouring to comply with His directives in all their enterprises.
Finally they walked with God. Contrast the two Enochs. Enoch, the son of Cain, mentioned in Genesis 4:17, is remembered because his father built a city and named it after him. The Sethite Enoch, the son of Jared, is remembered because he walked with God (Genesis 5:22). The members of the alternative society not only lived outwardly religious lives. They were committed to Him in the very depths of their hearts.
The co-existence in the world of these two societies is one of the inescapable facts of life. One goes out from the presence of the Lord. The other walks with God. Each of us belongs to one or the other. But to which?