Cain & Abel

Genesis 4:1-16

We think of this narrative as a story about Cain and Abel, but Abel really only plays a minor role. All we know about Abel is that he is the younger brother and was a keeper of sheep. When offerings were made to God, Abel’s was accepted, while Cain’s was not. Out of jealousy Cain kills Abel. We really do not get a chance to get to know Abel. We do not get to hear Abel speak at all, except for his blood crying out from the ground.

The main story is between God and Cain.  Questions arise from this narrative for which there are no clear answers. The reasons that Abel’s offering was accepted but Cain’s offering was rejected is not given. And if we just take the narrative as given, the only people to inhabit the world should be Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. Yet, there are the people that Cain fears will kill him, and people in the land of Nod, where Cain ends up settling. We can only conjecture about the answers, but the answers are not found in the book of Genesis.

It seems obvious that Cain cares greatly about his relationship with God and is devasted and angry about his offering being rejected. He sees Abel as a rival that is getting in the way of being approved by God. God makes it clear that Cain has a choice to give into his anger or not, but Cain chooses to act out on his anger and murders his brother.

If we were to ask the “person on the street” what the story of Cain and Abel is all about, they may think that it is about a brother who commits a crime of passion and kills his brother. And when confronted with the crime, he confesses, asks for forgiveness, and mercy and protection is given by God. But this is not the case.

Even though God already knows what Cain had done, He asks Cain where Abel is – God is giving Cain a chance to admit to what he did, but Cain simply pleads ignorance. Even when confronted with his guilt and told of his punishment of banishment, Cain does not show any signs of contrition, nor does he admit his guilt, nor ask for forgiveness – He is more worried about his own safety.

Under these circumstances, we would not be surprised if God simply destroys Cain, but instead, he puts a mark on Cain that will protect him from anyone who might want to do him harm.

What are we to take away from this narrative? It certainly is not that God loves us so much that we can commit murder and we can get away with it.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others. If we were to reflect on which of these is harder, most of us would say the latter. If we are honest with ourselves, there are many people that we dislike, for various reasons. And even those people we like, it does not take much for us to feel anger, jealousy, or even hate at times. Sometimes we come close to acting out, and sometimes we actually do lash out. The prison system has its share of residents who went too far.

What caused Cain to kill his brother was the fact that God rejected his offering, while accepting Abel’s. There probably would not have been any murder had God rejected both offerings, or had accepted Cain’s offering. But God did reject, and that led to Cain becoming upset. God is God and He has every right to make His choices as He sees fit. And we have a choice on how we deal with our intense emotions. There are consequences when we choose to harm others. Not only are there legal implications and consequences for us, it also affects the person who is harmed, as well as those around the victim, and those around us.

God talked to Cain and tried to encourage him to do better. He also warned Cain about sin, and how it is lurking to take hold of him. Instead of working out the issue with God, Cain gave into his anger and took it out on Abel.

Yet God does not stop speaking to Cain after the murder. There are the necessary consequences – Cain’s work is going to be much harder – the ground is not going to produce rich harvests for him, and he is also banished from his home and has to go settle in the land of Nod. But there is also grace and mercy – God allows Cain to live and grants him protection. This results in Cain settling in and raising a family.

This is a reminder that even when we fail God in our relations with one another, God will not abandon us. He will continue to reach out to us.

It is also a reminder that when we feel like lashing out at someone, we should talk to God and then to listen to His response, which often comes through reading the scriptures, or through others that He will send to us.

Loving others is not an easy thing – If it were, there would not be so many instructions in the Bible regarding this topic.

Not long ago, a disturbing light was shed upon a married couple. The marriage seemed like a good one, with the couple being actively involved in ministry together. But in the privacy of their home, there was abusive behavior – both emotional and physical. When this started to become public, this negatively affected not only the marriage, but also impacted the various ministries in which the couple was involved.

We have to remind ourselves that no one is making us act out in violence, whether emotionally, physically or both. We have the choice whether to act out on our negative emotions or not. The Holy Spirit is there to help us in these situations, if we allow ourselves to be helped.

If we do end up acting out and harm others, there will be consequences. However, remember that God will not abandon us, and He will continue to speak to us.

John points out in his first letter that God’s command to us is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we should make every effort to obey this command. But when we fail, Paul reminds us in Romans that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is what we will be celebrating next month. That was the ultimate show of love to us from God the Father.

So, in response, let us love God and others.

(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship on March 12, 2023.)