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Weekend Sermon: A Tale of Two Cities

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September 11, 2011 Tags: Problem of Evil

Today's post features Tim Keller. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

The opening chapters in Genesis omit seemingly important details, leaving one with an incomplete understanding of the situation at hand. Dr. Keller explains that ancient Biblical writers sought to convey certain truths, and, therefore, would only include facts relevant to the point of the narrative. This is true of Cain’s exile in Genesis 4: 11-26. As he explores this story, he highlights the crucial insights that the passage means to offer.

Foremost, he exposes the cause of Cain’s ruin. When Cain murders Abel, God questions him saying “Where is Abel your brother?” and “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” God is not seeking information, but rather creating an opportunity for Cain to repent of his sin. Why is this so? Dr. Keller explains that sin results when one is self-focused, rather than God- focused. Repentance, however, goes to the root of this problem by turning one’s attention to God and others once again. It is the action of removing oneself from the center that heals the hardness and pride of the heart.

However, Cain does not repent. Instead, he complains to God that his “punishment is more than he can bear.” In other words, he is sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the sin itself. This leads to his exile from the presence of God, which is the ultimate downfall of Cain.

Next, there is evidence that Cain’s city is a “culture of death.” From the line of Cain comes a civilization marked by animal husbandry, technology, and music. In these “gardening” activities, the people indeed reflect God’s image as they creatively order the surrounding materials. However, rather than a Garden of Eden through love and service, it becomes a place marked by oppression and violence. For example, one descendant of Cain called Lamech is polygamous, having two wives. Furthermore, this man boasts saying, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me—If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” Their culture is now about power and exploitation. In spite of the death cultivated in this city, Dr. Keller clarifies that cities are not the issue. It is human sin alone that corrupts the city.

Finally, the scriptures point to a coming city of grace. When Cain establishes his city, he names it after himself. Without God’s presence and love, his work becomes a means of making a name for himself. However, cities are supposed to be a place where people selflessly give to one another in response to the Lord. This text shows the beginning of one such city that comes through the line of Seth, Eve’s third son. The passage states that this city is filled with a people who “call on the name of the Lord.” Thus, it is a place where people lift high the name of God. Dr. Keller explains that the Body of Christ is called to be this city of grace within the city of death. Ultimately, this power comes through the Lord Jesus Christ alone, who has poured out endless love and forgiveness and grace upon all who believe in his name.

Exactly one decade ago today, the September Eleventh terrorist attacks shocked Americans beyond belief as they watched airplanes crash into the mighty Twin Towers and Pentagon. The hearts of the people filled with grief at the aftermath of the tragedy. The Twin Towers were reduced to rubble, thousands of dearly loved individuals died, and all were crushed with heartache. In the midst of this death arose a beautiful sight and sound: millions bowing their heads in prayer, speaking words of comfort, and coming to the aid of one another. In spite of the physical deaths, New York City and the U.S. as a whole were transformed from death to life as people joined hand in hand to mourn the loss and move forward into the healing process. The pain of the losses was raw and real, but so was the love and grace that swept through, causing our divided nation to unite in unbelievable strength.

This sermon is a clear reminder that we each have a choice. We can work to build cities that celebrate God’s love for us (the lineage of Seth), or we can live in the destructive lineage of Cain. May the spirit of prayer, humility, and love characterize the world’s cities on this the tenth anniversary of America’s most stark example of “The Tale of Two Cities.”

Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The “Influentials” issue of New York magazine featured Keller as “the most successful Christian evangelist in the city” for his engagement with the young professional and artist demographics. He received his bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., his Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hampton, Mass., and his Doctor of Ministry from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of such New York Times bestselling books as The Reason for God and Prayer. He is also Chairman of Redeemer City to City, which has helped start over 250 churches in global cities worldwide. He lives in New York City with his wife Kathy.

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Cal - #64676

September 12th 2011

God bless those who mourn, that they will find joy and peace in His arms even in a fading world of sin and death.

However, this does not mean America is now justified in what she is. Though unintentional, the article seems to conflate that America has the same status as the New Jerusalem. America is Babylon, along with the rest (varying degrees of course). And we live in Babylon, promoting peace in the city, until our home descends from Heaven and our true citizenship is fulfilled.

How can we in a sinful world build cities that honor the LORD? Such is insanity. The best we can do is support peace, and spread the Gospel.

The description of NYC is surreal, but it masks some of the ugly nature. It masks that so many were eager to launch a war into whatever nation had dared to bruise the Empire (this is what America is). Yes there was much love and self sacrifice to save those in the falling towers, this is an expression of Christ’s love hanging on the cross. But we don’t need to make a fairy book tale out of the story. We don’t need to be naive as to why these screwed up, sinful men decided to fly planes into buildings.

Don’t get me wrong, I weep for the fallen,  I cheer for those who were willing to set aside self-interest and go into a demolition zone to save lives, many times at the cost of their own. But I mourn as a Christian, I mourn because I am a man, I mourn because they were fellow creations, but I do not mourn because they are Americans.

beaglelady - #64678

September 12th 2011


Where are you from?  Do you not realize that many non-Americans died in the Sept 11 attacks?

Cal - #64681

September 12th 2011

I am American, and I do realize non-Americans died, but it I’m just emphasizing that I mourn because they were men, not because of any nationality. And the obvious rebuttal is “of course! non-Americans died too” but we gloss over the fact easily when people are being crushed all over the world, some even by America. It is easy to forget because it happened on our soil.

Don’t take me as callous or cold or using the opportunity to get on a box and be nasty. None of these are my intent. It was a terrible day and good people died. And yet, we can’t sweep the warts and ugliness under the rug.

beaglelady - #64684

September 12th 2011

Just please lighten up a little this week while we are mourning our dead.  I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to pick through debris looking for bits and pieces of human beings roasted by burning jet fuel. 

People from more than 60 nations have already signed up to get passes to the 9/11 memorial plaza in NYC now that it is open to the public.  I think this shows the global nature of the tragedy. 

Also, I don’t see why a sinful world can’t at least attempt to build cities that honor the Lord.

Cal - #64688

September 12th 2011

I’m not trying to pick a bone, but to mourn the deeper reality of the world we live in.

And as for your last comment, this is the very sin of Jeroboam. We fundamentally cannot attempt to build cities that honor the LORD because He is Holy and we’ve fallen. What we get is gross perversion of the Gospel. The best we can do is try and bring peace to whatever city we happen to be living in, but to build such cities, why would we? We belong to one not of this world.

Open Circle:
You’ve got the gist of my message. America is not the worst, not by far! I was born and raised a Conservative Patriot, no matter the cost, until Jesus opened my eyes. I must reckon the thing as it is. The constitution is a good man-made document, it helps promote a socially plural society, but it will not, nor ever will be, holy or of the LORD.

Open Circle - #64686

September 12th 2011

I must agree with Cal here. I too am American (by naturalization, not by birth), but the point of Cal (if I’m understanding it correctly) is that while politics is a useful, practical activity to engage in - it is not and should not be the “ultimate” desire of Christians (of any nationality) to advocate and promote. America, like all other nations, is an earthly domain and an earthly kingdom. God’s kingdom is not of this world, so therefore America is not inherently part of God’s kingdom.

So, protect America and defend the principles (of which I am a great fan, otherwise why would I have taken up citizenship of this country) that it stands for, but realize that in the end they are but temporary. No state constructed by human effort can stand as the final measure of truth and righteousness, capable of truly glorifying God. That principle is something that all Christians must keep in mind in realizing the place of politics (both domestic and international) in our list of priorities.

I will decline to comment on Cal’s assertion that America has acted in an imperialistic manner - that opens a huge can of worms that requires more knowledge of history to properly evaluate than I possess.

-Open Circle

beaglelady - #64694

September 13th 2011

All I’m saying is that Sept 11 is not the day to expound on this country’s very real faults.

I was in NYC on Sept 11 of this year. I saw so many nice touches of our better natures that day. On the train to NYC,  a car was reserved for firemen traveling to the memorial service.  StarBucks gave away free coffee from the hours of 9-11.  The Saks 5th Avenue flagship store, instead of showing expensive designer clothes in its famous windows, had stark, simple displays of the names of those who died in the attacks.

Also, aren’t we called to be a city set on a hill? 

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