First Look… Exclusive Excerpt from John Nugent’s POLITICS OF YAHWEH.

PAGE 2 of 3

It is critical for Yoder to accentuate God’s unexpected response to Cain’s egregious offense. Having previously spared the lives of disobedi­ent Adam and Eve, God now spares murderous Cain who had no justifi­able or even reasonable motive for killing his brother. God’s justice does not immediately demand life for life. God seems entirely unconcerned with equal recompense. Rather he makes explicit to Cain that Cain’s relationship with the soil is forever altered and that his actions have un­alterable consequences with which he must now learn to live. Cain sus­pects that these consequences will not end with banishment from the soil. He fears the vengeful reflex of society. Cain assumes that, without any sort of divine prompting, the wider world citizenry will be morally outraged at his conduct and will take it upon themselves to bring him to deadly justice. Remarkably, God shares Cain’s concern, both for Cain’s sake and for wider society. So he protects Cain and all future felons who commit “capital offenses” by harnessing for his purposes the human fear that vengeful retaliation might be worse than the original offense war­rants. The mark of Cain thus points to the circle of vengeance in which Cain finds protection. God did not create this circle; he simply used it to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

Cain, Lamech, and Suspect Civilization

Yoder sees the origin of the state in the vengeful societal reflex that Cain feared. Though no formal government existed at that time, the dynamic of deterrence toward which fallen humans gravitated without divine provocation is the underlying dynamic of the sword-bearing state. The state is thus a fallen institution that springs from human ef­forts at self-preservation. As soon as this violent reflex arose among humans, God sought to chasten it by placing it under his jurisdiction. Because governing structures are predicated upon human sinfulness, God’s people must always remember that such structures are fraught with ambivalence.

The dangerous potential of this reflexive deterrent is quickly real­ized in Cain’s near descendant Lamech, who claims vengeful protec­tion for himself and escalates it beyond reasonable proportion (from “sevenfold” to “seventy-sevenfold” according to Gen 4:24). This is to be expected, says Yoder, because “the justified violence of government is always open to abuse. Just as the protection of Cain escalated into the brutality of Lamech, so the claims governments make to protect their citizenry tend to escalate into the serious menace of uncontrollable wholesale destruction.” This consistently realized potential for abuse does not, however, render the state useless for God’s purposes. God or­ders the fallen state to accomplish relative good despite itself because people are better off with any kind of government—even a tyrannical one—than they are without one. The sword-bearing state is thus an­other example of how God takes a human response to the consequences of sin and “ordains” or “orders” it to accomplish his purposes.


L10-Launch Promo Blog Phase 1 CTA 1

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook!
We respect your email privacy

In the News...
Christian Nationalism Understanding Christian Nationalism: Essential Books [A Reading Guide]
Most AnticipatedMost Anticipated Books of the Fall for Christian Readers!
Theology BooksTen Theology Books to Watch For – September 2022
B. EhrenreichJournalist Barbara Ehrenreich died earlier this month. Here's a few video clips that introduce her work
Funny Bible ReviewsHilarious One-Star Customer Reviews of Bibles

One Comment

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Why does everything have to turn out to be Christian?
    And  of what relevance are the writings of a tiny ancient tribal cult  in a now instantly inter-connected globalized world of seven billion human beings.
    A cult that by the way practiced systematic even genocidal slaughter of its enemies and/or those who stood in the way of their territorial expansiveness.

    Just like Christians always have – as depicted in this stark image


    That having been said please check out these references on the now necessary politics of the future – if there is to be a future!