The flowering of culture and invention does not restrain the escalation of sin — Victor Hamilton

My wonderful wife got me an Apple Watch for Father’s Day. And, I must admit, it’s mind-blowing. So much technology right there on my wrist. I never thought the Dick Tracy watch would ever really be a thing…but it is! I can’t help but think, “We sure have come a long way us humans!”

But have we?

Genesis 4 continues the story of the origins of humanity that began in Genesis 1–3. In Genesis 1–2 we read about how God effortlessly brought forth order out of chaos, light from darkness, and fashioned living spaces to then fill those living spaces with inhabitants. The pinnacle of God’s creation in the story is humanity. He makes man and woman in his image.

At the end of chapter 2 we have a sense of marvel, excitement and anticipation regarding this beginning. Adam and Eve are placed in the garden with the wonderful vocation of cultivating this new world and filling it with life and the glory of God.

The story takes a sudden turn in Genesis 3, however, when Adam and Eve disobey God’s direct command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Immediately after their rebellion against God’s command, Adam and Eve are separated from God. As we read on after the moments of the fall in Genesis 3, however, it becomes immediately evident that not all is lost. God doesn’t destroy his good work as result of the fall. Rather, God puts new rules, systems and boundaries in place in order for his creation project to move forward, albeit, not exactly as he originally planned. Redemption provisions are made so that there’s still a chance for things to return to the way God always intended it.

As the story continues, however, it only takes a few verses for tragedy to strike again as we read about Adam and Eve’s sons and the first case of murder (namely, fratricide). As the news demonstrates, people kill other people for all sorts of reasons. The motif for the first murder in human history, however, is jealousy.

This murder further compounds the problem of God’s tainted creation. Once again, humanity is disobedient. While the Torah mandates capital punishment for first degree murder, God does not put Cain to death for his transgression. Rather, like in Eden with Cain’s parents, God puts in place yet another law to help his creation project move forward.

Cain, solely on the grace of God, goes on to establish a city and have children. Out of Cain’s offspring come patriarchs of three guilds: animal husbandry, music, and metallurgy. These three guilds are pillars on which civilization and culture are founded. In other words, not only does life move on after the tragedy of sin, life also improves.

Once again, immediately after the story continues on a positive trajectory, we encounter yet another tragedy. Namely, Lemech, the father of the founders of the three guilds, kills a man for striking him (Gen. 4:23).

What is the meaning of all of this? Dr. Victor Hamilton says it best: “The flowering of culture and invention does not restrain the escalation of sin.”[1]

Back to the Apple Watch.

We live in a time in which culture and invention is accelerating faster than ever. Dick Tracy watches, smart phones, hoverboards and space exploration mark our day. Art, literature, dance, and music are also flourishing. It’s natural, then, for us to think that as culture and invention advances so does the state of humanity.

This just isn’t true, however.

Life may be more convenient than ever, but we’re literally killing ourselves and each other more than ever before. The twentieth century saw more cultural flourishing and technological advancement than any century before it, and yet, the twentieth century was the bloodiest century ever. Did you get that? EVER.

This little story in Genesis reminds us that the flourishing of culture and invention does not correspond to the flourishing of the moral state of humanity. Some of the brightest minds who bring us amazing technology are morally depraved. Some of our greatest artists and musicians who compose the sophisticated music are completely broken.

I love jazz. Jazz—I would argue—is the most inventive, innovative, and sophisticated form of musical expression. Many would rightfully argue that jazz is the expression of a massive leap in culture. Consider the list of some of the jazz giants and their tragic stories.

Charlie Parker, died age 34.

“Parker’s life was riddled with mental health problems and an addiction to heroin.28 Although unclear which came first, his addiction to opiates began at the age of 16, when he was injured in a car crash. A doctor prescribed morphine for the pain, that was enough to create an addiction. This addiction caused him to at times miss performances and be considered unreliable.28 Heroin use was prevalent in the jazz scene, and users could normally acquire it with little difficulty.29 Although he produced many brilliant recordings during this period, Parker’s behavior became increasingly erratic. Heroin was difficult to obtain once he moved to California, where the drug was less abundant, so he used alcohol as a substitute. A recording for the Dial label from July 29, 1946, provides evidence of his condition. Before this session, Parker drank a quart of whiskey. According to the liner notes of Charlie Parker on Dial Volume 1, Parker missed most of the first two bars of his first chorus on the track, “Max Making Wax”. When he finally did come in, he swayed wildly and once spun all the way around, away from his microphone. On the next tune, “Lover Man”, producer Ross Russell physically supported Parker. On “Bebop” (the final track Parker recorded that evening) he begins a solo with a solid first eight bars; on his second eight bars, however, he begins to struggle, and a desperate Howard McGhee, the trumpeter on this session, shouts, “Blow!” at him. However, Charles Mingus considered this version of “Lover Man” to be among Parker’s greatest recordings, despite its flaws.30 Nevertheless, Parker hated the recording and never forgave Ross Russell for releasing it. He re-recorded the tune in 1951 for Verve. Parker’s life took a turn for the worse in March 1954 when his 3-year-old daughter Pree died of illness.31 He attempted suicide twice in 1954, which once again landed him in a mental hospital.

Bill Evans, died age 51.

During the late 1970s, Evans kicked his heroin habit, with the help of methadone, only to become addicted to cocaine. He started with one gram per weekend, but later started taking several grams daily.47 His brother Harry’s suicide may have also influenced his emotional state after 1979. His sister-in-law Pat Evans has stated that she knew Bill would not last long after Harry’s death and she wondered if that is what prompted her to buy three plots in a Baton Rouge Cemetery, where Harry was interred.9 It has been documented that he voluntarily quit his treatment for chronic hepatitis.9 Laurie Verchomin has claimed that Evans was clear in mind that he would die in a short time.47 On September 15, 1980, Evans, who had been in bed for several days with stomach pains at his home in Fort Lee, was accompanied by Joe LaBarbera and Verchomin to the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he died that afternoon.47 The cause of death was a combination of peptic ulcer, cirrhosis, bronchial pneumonia, and untreated hepatitis.10 Evans’s friend Gene Lees described Evans’s struggle with drugs as “the longest suicide in history.”10 He was interred in Baton Rouge, next to his brother Harry. Services were held in Manhattan on Friday, September 19.55 A tribute, planned by producer Orrin Keepnews and Tom Bradshaw, was held on the following Monday, September 22, at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.56 Fellow musicians paid homage to the late pianist in the first days of the 1980 Monterey Jazz Festival, which had opened that very week: Dave Brubeck played his own “In Your Own Sweet Way” on the 19th, The Manhattan Transfer would follow on the 20th, while John Lewis dedicated “I’ll Remember April”.57

John Coltrane, died age 40.

Coltrane died of liver cancer at the age of 40 on July 17, 1967, at Huntington Hospital on Long Island. His funeral was held four days later at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City. The service was started by the Albert Ayler Quartet and finished by the Ornette Coleman Quartet. Coltrane is buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.38 Biographer Lewis Porter suggested that the cause of Coltrane’s illness was hepatitis, although he also attributed the disease to Coltrane’s heroin use.39 Coltrane’s death surprised many in the music community who were unaware of his condition. Miles Davis said, “Coltrane’s death shocked everyone, took everyone by surprise. I knew he hadn’t looked too good… But I didn’t know he was that sick—or even sick at all.”40

Jaco Pastorius, died age 35.

Pastorius developed a self-destructive habit of provoking bar fights and allowing himself to be beaten up.5 After sneaking onstage at a Santana concert at the Sunrise Musical Theater in Sunrise, Florida on September 11, 1987 and being ejected from the premises, he made his way to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida.18 After reportedly kicking in a glass door, having been refused entrance to the club, he was in a violent confrontation with Luc Havan, the club’s manager who was a martial arts expert.19 Pastorius was hospitalized for multiple facial fractures and injuries to his right eye and left arm, and fell into a coma.20 There were encouraging signs that he would come out of the coma and recover, but they soon faded. A brain hemorrhage a few days later led to brain death. He was taken off life support and died on September 21, 1987 at the age of 35 at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.18

These are just a few. These guy were among the most brilliant performers and composers to ever live; yet, their innovation and virtuosity did not mean redeemed souls…

Let’s consider Jesus. He was a carpenter. He’s not known, however, for his innovative tables nor invention. Yet, Jesus is the Adam as God always intended. He’s the everlasting man. He, more than anyone else, has redeemed history and set it on a different trajectory. He’s the one who restored God’s original intent for all of the creation.

This is not to diminish the unparalleled contribution of cultural innovators. The very hunger for expression is an extension of the image of God in humanity. God wants us to create!

The point here, in this post, is that cultural flourishing and innovation does not restrain the flourishing of sin in the world…Jesus does.

Finally, this is the point of the story of the Tower of Babel. Humanity advances to the pinnacle of its ability in that story. God’s response to it is this:

Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

Genesis 11:6

Wow. Nothing is impossible for them. This innovation and marvelous achievement does not mean that they have fulfilled their human vocation as defined by the Creator. What does the the fulfillment of that vocation look like? It doesn’t look like a skyscraper. It doesn’t look like a smart watch. It looks like a man dying on a cross out of his love for his enemies.

Be the everlasting man.

Full color painting of Jesus on the cross by Simon Bisley|Full color painting|Jesus|jesus,cross

[1]         Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 240.

Categories: Devotional

Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary


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