April 24, 2020

“…then the Lord put a mark on Cain lest any who found him should attack him.”   Genesis 4:15

Recently I wrote about the two houses the Lord mentions at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

The point was that, though the houses had different foundations, they both had to face the same storms.

Some of the deepest mysteries in the Bible are found in the first few chapters of Genesis. I don’t mean physical mysteries about the formation of the universe. I mean spiritual mysteries about the moral perfections of God.

We may well be curious about why the serpent was allowed to enter the Garden. We have lots of questions about the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

One of the deeper mysteries is displayed in the verse cited above.

We may reasonably ask why a mark of protection was placed over Cain but not over Abel.

At least I hope we can ask the question reasonably.

We must resist at all costs asking any question irreverently.

We must never move in the diabolical spirit which calls our great God and Saviour to the bar of our sense of justice.

Luther said that if we are to proceed very far in the Christian life we must crucify the question “Why.”

Jesus tolerated some “Why” questions from even his more sluggish followers.

Reverently, depending solely upon what we know from Holy Scripture about the character of our Holy God, we offer the following.

God may have allowed Abel to die for some of the same reasons He allowed His Son to die. The true worshiper dies under the hand of the false worshiper. John the Baptist is beheaded, not Herodias or Salome. Jesus is crucified, not Barabbas. Paul is decapitated, not Nero, to give an example which lies just beyond Acts 28.

God allows murder and martyrdom to exhibit the authentic character of the wicked and the righteous.

False worship is not merely a mistake about theology.

False worship sows the seeds of an evil harvest.

A missionary named Chester moved to Latin America to bring the Good News of a Saviour. A revolutionary named Fidel preached the gospel of Karl Marx in the same region.

Chet Bitterman, father of two, was blasted into heaven by a rifle shot at close range while his hands were tied behind his back. He was eight months shy of his twenty-ninth birthday.

Soon afterward his bereaved parents walked into a prayer meeting I was helping to lead in Newport North Carolina.

Fidel Castro, on the other hand, had his descent into hell cushioned by sympathetic friends in his tenth decade.

We will not answer the “why” questions until that unimaginable moment we stand face-to-Face before the Throne. There, dressed in Christ’s righteousness alone, we may be permitted to ask questions. That is, if we still have questions. Job saw that Face and declared that he had no more questions. Job had but a short glimpse.

Soon we will join him to behold a vista unveiled and everlasting.

It could be that God is His great mercy puts off the punishment of His enemies for a very long time. It could be that God in His great grace sometimes refuses to wait any longer to reward His friends.

Of course it’s not always murder and martyrdom  which perplex.

Sometimes it’s just the assertion of the mortality which we all possess.

I have a friend in Memphis named Ronnie Johnson. We Ronnies stick together because there are so few of us left. Inner city Memphis is known for its dangerous neighborhood. Valiant young Christians have moved into neighborhoods with names like Binghampton and Orange Mound. Maybe the toughest neighborhood is called Nutbush.

Outsiders like myself are not qualified to make those comparative judgments.

It is my invariable custom to domicile in leafy suburban enclaves.

The more Mennonites and Quakers in the neighborhood the better.

Ronnie Johnson grew up in Nutbush. As a gang member 25 years ago he was shot four times and stabbed seven.

Now he is a seminary trained pastor of the Miracle of Redemption Church in (where else?) Nutbush.

Yesterday Ronnie came home from the hospital. He’s been diagnosed with, to quote his exact words, “the worst kind of bladder cancer.”

In 2010 maybe the most effective Anglican minister in Britain died from bladder cancer. He was a friend of mine, seven years younger than I am today.

It is possible that the other, younger, better Ronnie may precede me into heaven.

I hope not but He may.

Sometimes God refuses to wait to reward His friends.

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