Cain & Abel: A Human Conundrum

Reflection: Genesis 4

From a reading of the early chapters of Genesis, we come away with the conviction that evil is personified, and its subtle and pervasive influence immediately casts a shadow over Man’s first family. It makes me extremely thankful for the cross and resurrection of Christ.

One such tragic expression is the account of Cain and Abel. The birth of Cain (meaning – the producer) was exuberantly celebrated by Eve (v.1), while Abel (means – worthlessness) arrived without much fanfare (v.2). Obviously preferred over his younger brother, Cain became a wealthy farmer, owning most of the arable land outside of Eden, while Abel as a shepherd, grazed his flock on land that his brother left uncultivated. The balance of power seems set as the brothers accepted their lot and went about their respective occupations, until the advent of an important festival. God noted the differences and had regard for Abel and his sacrifice and indicated it, although we are not told its mode. After Eden, God still communicated with the family, and they were familiar with His presence and voice. It is important to note that the quality of the sacrifice discloses minimally the character of Abel. Ultimately it is what God sees away from human eyes that matter most (1 Sam 16:7). With His decision, God reversed the fraternal inequities that Eve and Cain established earlier. Cain’s reaction formed the core of this story.

As God’s judgment is indisputable, Cain was suddenly confronted with the Divine measure of what truly matters. All along he had been ‘the highly regarded one,’ and Abel, ‘the nobody.’ How can anyone disregard him or his feelings? Cain had no right to be angry, says God. Sibling rivalry aside, instead of looking to his creator and listening to Him (vv. 6-7), Cain’s overblown sense of entitlement made him conclude that the Divine favour on Abel had to be eliminated, in order for his deformed sense of identity to survive. By ignoring God’s probing, he ruptured his communion with the only Person who knew him intimately. God seems impotent when He reasoned with Cain, that he alone possessed the will to overpower sin, the evil predator (v.7). The crux is not the failure of the knowledge of sin, but a misuse of his will towards a destructive purpose. The choice was his to make. Abel was quietly murdered.

Further gracious Divine exploratory questions followed “where is Abel your brother?” and “what have you done?” and Cain responded to them by a lie and with sarcasm. God was looking for a radical alteration of the course and direction of his life, his basic motivations, attitudes, and objectives that is called repentance. But it was not to be. Like most impenitent transgressors, muzzling the external voice that accuses as an instrument of self-deception is the predominant course of behaviour, to hush the conscience inside. By his offence, Cain instantly excluded himself from all relationships – from the land (vv. 10-12), from God (v.16), from family and people around him (v.12). With his brother dead, the possibility of belonging ceases, and there remains only distance – as he became a fugitive (v.12). By his crime, he first judged himself! In the end, when attempts at Divine conversation do not produce repentance, God’s judgment is pronounced.

To have a brother, one must be a brother and ‘keep’ a brother – inevitably a normal and customary responsibility. Lest our thoughts of Cain be ‘forgive him not, Father, for he knew what he did,’ murder notwithstanding, there is ‘an Abel-and-a-Cain’ in all of us! But being on this side of the cross, we have a pertinent reminder which we can, as a choice, evoke each day – even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11).