Eight generations of people were already on the earth before anyone began to seek God.
That’s you, your great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, and everyone in between.
The furthest I can reach is to my maternal great-great-grandmother before our history is violently interrupted by slavery and the lack of census data therein. That’s six generations, and it lands me somewhere in the mid-19th century. My mom has devoted hours of research to discovering who and what came before that, but to no avail. It’s like being dropped into a novel at the height of its major conflict, without any context for who the main characters are.
All of this is to say that genealogies are complicated. More complicated than a list of names and a few treasured family heirlooms would have us believe.
Fragmented stories. Chunks of lost years. Unidentified characters. Do we ever truly know where we came from?
Even today’s well-marketed personal DNA tests do more to muddy the waters than to bring the clarity we hope for, in many cases.
But whether you share my family’s broken history, as most African-Americans do, or every branch and leaf in your family tree is fully intact, it’s natural to want to know the whole story. To fill in the gaps, and know what happened, who did it, and why?
If you’ve read the Old Testament even leisurely, you have encountered a lot of genealogies. “This guy married that girl who bore him this son, then that dude married this girl who bore that other guy” and so on and so on. The temptation is to skip them and get on with the juicy, narrative-rich portions of scripture. But if we stop and examine these lineages, we can discover that there are significant things being communicated. In God’s book, a list of names is more than just a list of names.
The first genealogy we see is in Genesis 4:17-22. It begins with Cain and ends with his great-great-great-great-granddaughter Namaah. It excludes Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve, who were the first generation of the eight that exist up to this point.
Four verses later, in the final phrase of the chapter, we get an unexpected revelation.
At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.
-Genesis 4:26b ESV
The preceding genealogy may seem like insignificant detail as it relates to this verse, but it serves as the framework for a question that I haven’t been able to shake.
Why did it take eight generations for people to start seeking God?
What happened? What were they doing all that time?
There were no smartphone games to play, or corporate ladders to climb, or Netflix series to binge on. No casinos. No sports teams. No holidays. No distractions, right?
So what on earth were they doing?
They knew God existed. He was there. He had walked with them in the garden, given them everything they needed to survive, confronted their sin when they failed. He was everywhere.
And they knew he was sovereign, because he had created that garden and then banished them from it. He had known things that only an omniscient being would know. He had even pronounced judgment on their evil ways. He was powerful.
But they never once turned to seek after their creative, generous, powerful Father.
Of course, Cain and Abel both brought their offerings to God, but this seems less like an act of seeking or worship, and more like performance-based self-righteousness in the form of sibling rivalry. It was the only time any contact with God was initiated by humans, but it feels shallow and self-serving. More on that another time.
These first eight generations had a “he’ll show up when he needs to” attitude toward God. They didn’t pursue him. In fact, they usually ran from him.
But what else were they doing for eight godless generations? Well…life. They were doing life. The regular, unremarkable life things that we still do today—when we’re not bingeing on Netflix.
We don’t get a whole lot of detail about how these first humans spent their time, but we do learn three big things that they did. Things that may have distracted them from seeking God. These things are actually major blessings; but a blessing is only one poor judgment away from being a curse. It’s up to us to decide.
So, here are the three “generational curses” that we don’t talk much about:
1. Marriage (Genesis 2:22-25; 4:17-24)
Since Adam and Eve, marriage has been the most celebrated, idealized, even idolized sacrament in the world. But two becoming one can be a messy, all-consuming adventure (and all the married folk said, “AMEN”). God gave Adam and Eve the gift of each other as husband and wife, but then they went off and did their own thing. They forgot that it was God who had brought them together and it was only God who could keep them. If we’re not careful and intentional, the gift of marriage can cause us to lose sight of the Gift Giver, God himself. Marriage is beautiful, but what good is it if you lose your soul?
2. Children (Genesis 4:1-2; 4:17-26)
A genealogy isn’t possible without babies. And babies are a full-time job. When I had my first son, the most challenging aspect of being a new mom wasn’t the sleep deprivation or losing the baby weight. It was the total disruption of everything I knew about seeking and serving God. The baby left no room for predictability, and I could no longer “plan” to seek God, or linger in his presence indefinitely. I had to take what I could get. And I did. But it was hard. I had to die to my candles lit, alone in my cozy corner quiet times that I used to experience every morning, and embrace a new definition of what it meant to seek God (i.e. in the car, in the shower, in the laundry room, etc.).
Bottom line? Babies don’t care that you want to seek God. But don’t let their selfish, oblivious indifference rub off on you!
3. Work (Genesis 4:2-8)
The first thing we learn about Cain and Abel is what they did for a living (a farmer and a shepherd, respectively). It seems that, in their opinion, it was all they had to offer. So they worked hard and used their work to seek God’s approval—but they didn’t seek God. What ensued was a tragic story of jealousy, lies, and murder. All because one man’s work didn’t achieve his desired results. A life that seems so simple can suddenly become a catastrophic tale of misery and grief, if we don’t seek God. Yes, we should work hard, but we should seek harder than we work. It’s the only work-life balance that is proven to yield lasting results.
It’s easy to make excuses like, “I wanted to seek God but…my marriage,” or “I tried to seek God, but these kids don’t come with an off switch,” or “I know I should be seeking God, but my family needs me to work overtime.
But even if you’re single, childless, and unemployed—we should all beware of the normal life things that have the power to define generations of our family.
This is what we do. We get married, we have kids, we go to work. But what will the story be eight generations from now, and will it have been worth it?
You have full control over your legacy.