The church was established in part to erase barriers between God and us, but also to remove barriers we erect between us.
Seventh-day Adventists, as a last day-people, herald the Ten Commandments as still valid for the world in which we live and are well aware that the first four commandments describe how we relate to and ultimately show our love and allegiance to God.
In our strong emphasis on the first four commandments, which is appropriate, is it possible that we have lost sight of the remaining six? Is it possible we have not realized God has high expectations of us for all ten commandments?
Accordingly, since the remaining six commandments — which state God’s desire for how we are to love and relate to each other — outnumber the previous four, it appears that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew we would have an even tougher time with loving, valuing, and appreciating our fellow man than the Godhead. But, since we are all sinners, it is oxymoronic that we would have a more difficult time relating to each other than to a just, righteous, and Holy God!
Why Is It So Difficult?
Why is it that we as fallen beings, who have all been enslaved by sin and have much more in common with each other than we do with God, have such considerable misgivings about each other? We are stratified on every level, even within each people group, and in every way conceivable — and the greater the difference in any aspect, the greater the strain. Moreover, it is a paradox that we do not hate God for being immensely different (or maybe we do and don’t realize it).
The Bible states, “Whoever claims to love God, yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20, NIV).
Our proclivity to emphasize superficial or perceived differences rather than that which is real must certainly hurt God’s heart. It’s like the heart of a parent that hurts to see two or more of their children estranged over meaningless differences such as different hair, eye color, or perceived beauty.
What We Call Race
Tensions in the United States and elsewhere have centered around “race,” as we call it. I state, “race, as we call it,” because the term race to describe people of different hues is not found in Scripture. It is an idiomatic expression of modern times closely akin to Darwinism. This belief system is antithetical in every aspect to Scripture. Therefore, it should be categorically rejected by the Christian family, as it, in itself, creates a conceptual difference that God does not see and therefore is not real.
The Bible does use the word ethnos from which we get the word ethnicity, which doesn’t carry the negative connotations of “race.” But we have the same fears, even disdain of the indigent, mentally ill, physically challenged, or socially ostracized persons. Think of the disciples who fled from the man who ran out from the tombs toward Jesus; blind Bartimaeus, who was told he didn’t deserve a voice in the crowd; or even the money-entranced Zacchaeus on his treetop perch.
Think of it — twelve men running away from one man for whom Jesus had crossed a sea to see, or His periodic trips leaving the safety of Jewish enclaves to meet those whom His peers hated. After their encounter with Jesus, no longer could they be set aside by society for their cosmetic or extrinsic difference. However, they were very much the same on the inside — sinners who needed a Savior. At the heart of the matter is a question that haunts me. As a fallen individual, am I running away from people because I’m too afraid to leave my Adventist comfort zone?
Cain and Abel
John also wrote, “For this is the message that 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, NIV).
Cain’s antagonism toward Abel was based on a difference he magnified in his heart to the point of severe hatred. Nothing is said in Scripture that states Abel persecuted Cain for his choice to follow his own course rather than follow God. It was quite the opposite. The one who was in the wrong persecuted the one who was right.
Sound reasoning, it would seem, would be that we must be careful to never persecute one another, because John makes it clear that in doing so, we are children of the devil. Moreover, as we understand that persecution will come on us for choosing to follow God's commandments, it would be heinous to be a persecutor, knowing our turn is, if not next, coming very soon.
Anger Against God?
Is it possible that Cain, to some degree, was really taking out his anger against God on his flesh and blood? Do we mistreat family members because we treat others the way we believe God has treated us? If we believe God is harsh, exacting, even capricious, we may relate to each other the same way, only with greater antagonism toward those we deem most unlike us.
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary states, “A high and reverent view of God leads to a noble and dignified view of man, whereas a poorly developed concept of God often produces a distorted perspective on man. Hence, man may be viewed more importantly than he ought, or man may be seen less important than is biblical.”* God’s reply to us is to be righteous in all our affairs, especially as it relates to each other. As he told Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7, NKJV).
I would like to respectfully suggest it is quite probable that Cain, commensurate with the great controversy theme, although angry at his brother, was even angrier at God for accepting his brother's sacrifice while demonstrating no respect for his. Also, it is possible that he had a poorly developed understanding of God that, in turn, led to a poorly developed understanding of his brother.
God’s Litmus Test
Cain’s paltry sacrificial offering of vegetation reveals his heart's condition — mainly that he did not see the great enormity and heinous, treasonous nature of sin because he didn’t respect the holy nature of God as Creator and Redeemer. When we lose sight of God's holiness, we forget that He expects, on our part, not even the slightest deviation from strict integrity with respect to Him and with regard to how we treat our brother.
This will be God’s litmus test of whether we truly love Him. We will be held accountable for all of the commandments. Then certainly, the same holds for all ungodly prejudice toward any individual for whatever reason, contrived from the minutest difference to that which seems large in our eyes.
Consequently, I close with Paul’s appeal to love, value, and appreciate each other, as he asserted these words to a church divided. “Love is to be sincere and active [the real thing — without guile and hypocrisy]. Hate what is evil [detest all ungodliness, do not tolerate wickedness]; hold on tightly to what is good” (Romans 12:9, AMP).
Remember what God said to Cain: if we do well, it will go well for us. For our church, our community, our city, state , and our nation. With each other in mind, made up of every “ethnos” rather than “race” under the Son, let us love one another.
*W. A. Elwell and P. W. Comfort, eds., Tyndale Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001), 850.