Some Bible stories are short on details, revealing only the limited information God intends us to understand. I find the story of Cain and Abel to fit this description well.
This morning, as I read in Genesis 4, I began to muse/meditate on this little story that ends so tragically – with the first recorded murder in the Bible. Violence follows quickly on the heels of Adam and Eve's rebellion in the Garden of Eden, with one son slaying another. It is grievous to read. Things haven't gotten any better since then.
Below are the words I wrote in my journal this morning. This is a 'peek behind the curtain' of how I sometimes process God's Word. Without further ado...
Cain and Abel
Two brothers present two different offerings to God. No real explanation as to why, but God looked with favor on Abel's gift (firstborn from his flock) but not upon Cain's gift (part of his harvested crop).
What is more interesting to me than why God favored one above the other is Cain's Response:
- Cain got angry. Very angry.
- Cain's face became downcast.
Two significant inner attitudes seem to grip Cain. The first is intense anger – but why exactly? Without being overly analytical or speculative, why does Cain get so angry (that he'll eventually kill his brother)? Why not, instead, inquire of God about what he has done wrongly or poorly? The second inner attitude of Cain shows up on his face: downcast. Downcast isn't anger. It is disappointment. Sadness. Hurt. An "everything is against me" attitude.
The Downcast Face
The downcast face suggests Cain wanted God's Approval. What is it about the human heart that it needs and longs for the approval of the perceived Authority? It is innate to us. Cain doesn't experience God's approval, so he becomes very angry and then downcast, sad, bitter. Who is to blame for these feelings? Certainly not God! The feelings belong to Cain, manufactured by him in response to God's response. We often blame external circumstances for our attitudes (just like Cain), but our attitudes really are our own creations, via our chosen responses to situations.
What if Cain had humbly sought God and asked,
"O Lord, what have I done that caused You not to be favorable to me? What am I guilty of that erased Your smile when You look at me?"
Surely such a response by Cain would have met with a caring explanation from God! ... and a change in Cain's offering (gift) to God – perhaps giving his best rather than leftovers? Perhaps a newfound treasuring of all God had done for him?
No such transaction occurs between Cain and God. Instead, Cain takes out his anger – not upon God, but upon his innocent brother. Violently, Cain kills Abel. Murder has entered the world – the greatest injustice imaginable.
The Better Abel
God sees Cain's rebellion, but He doesn't stop Cain's hand. Sadly, Abel is a consequence. The innocent one dies at the hands of the wicked. In that sense, Abel prefigures Jesus, who will also die at the hands of a world of wicked Cains. And You, O God, let that happen, too. Jesus, the better Abel. (Tim Keller points out that Jesus' blood is superior to Abel's, because "[Jesus'] blood cries out from the ground, not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal").
"O Lord, today, may I give you my very best – secure in knowing its origin is with Your hand to begin with. To give back to You in micro what You've given me in macro. To hold nothing back. What do I have that I have not first received from You? Here is my life, O Lord. I lay it down as an offering before You, again.
PS "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship..." -Romans 12:1