Sunday, April 3, 2016

Not Like Cain

I imagine that some of you might be surprised to know that Cain shows up elsewhere in the Bible besides in Genesis. John makes use of him. This is what he wrote.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.

That seems like good advice. And yet, I’m pretty sure that John had something more in mind than we should not murder members of our family. What we’re going to do today is take a look at what Moses has to say about Cain so that we can have a better idea of what we are to avoid. So, first, listen to Moses.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4.1-16

So, what do we see here? What is it about Cain that we are to stay away from? Let’s begin by taking a look at some of his behavior.

One thing that is pretty obvious is that Cain got angry. He was angry at God when his offering wasn’t accepted. And why did Cain get angry? It’s the same reason that anyone gets angry. He sensed what seemed to him to be an injustice. He thought that his offering was good enough. It should not have been rejected. And he thought that because he thought that he was good enough. And God had the nerve to disagree.

Then, there’s that murder. Cain killed his brother. Why? Was there something Abel did against Cain that warranted that reaction or anything even close to it? There is no indication in the text that Abel did any such thing. But there must be some reason. And there is. John tells us in that same passage I quoted earlier.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

So, what did Abel do? He didn’t actually do anything directly against his brother. Rather, he simply did what was right while Cain, his brother, didn’t. But how is that a motivation for murder? It makes sense when you read between the lines and hear Cain thinking, ‘You’re making me look bad! And I don’t like that.’ That explains lots of different kinds of responses, even murder.

Then there’s that second conversation with God.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

So, Cain wants nothing to do with watching out for Abel. Again, you need to look behind the words to the attitude. That comment about being a brother’s keeper reflects this opinion of Cain: ‘This is a dog eat dog world, and it’s every man for himself.’ That’s a bit more to fill out our picture of Cain.

Let’s look at one more thing that Cain did. How does Cain respond when God condemns him to life as a fugitive and a wanderer? What’s he say? ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. … Whoever finds me will kill me.’ This is quite interesting. First of all, if we were to translate Cain’s language into 21st century lingo it would come out something like this. ‘That’s not fair!’ Really. And then, I find it more than a little ironic that Cain thinks it an unjust burden that someone might do to him what he just did to his brother. That’s what Cain finds so unfair.

So, what do we have? A look at Cain’s words and behavior is quite telling and certainly not very complimentary. He is an angry, jealous, self-centered person. I think we all can see why John offers his warning not to be like Cain.

And yet, seeing these things, I think that we need to admit that it reveals a bit of a problem. There are those too many times when we actually do behave just like Cain.  It may be that we’ve not murdered anyone, and yet do you remember what Jesus said about that? Inappropriate anger breaks the commandment about killing. And while we might be careful not to whine about things, aren’t there times when we fall into a complaining spirit? Times when, in effect, we are saying, ‘It’s not fair!’ And then again, while no one may raise questions about our being a brother’s keeper there are those times when we slide into Cain’s attitude of ‘every man for himself’. And these are just a sampling of ways that we can imitate Cain’s rather self-centered attitude to life.

So, what do we do? Is it too late to heed John’s warning? It’s never too late. It is true that there are times when we do act like Cain. But we need to hold on to this very basic fact. We are not like Cain. We have been changed. We have been raised with Christ. We have had that new life of eternity impressed upon our souls. We really do have one foot in the age to come. So, even though there are times when we look way too similar to Cain in how we behave, we need to hold on to what is real. We are Christians. Jesus has changed us in a deep and profound way. We are now alive with the new life of the age to come. We don’t always live like it, but that is who we really are.

Now, when we find ourselves acting like Cain in some way or other what we need to do is obvious. We need to repent. We need to acknowledge what we have done, not just the behavior but also the attitude behind it. We need to admit all of that as the sin that it is. Then we come to Jesus for forgiveness. We ask for forgiveness and for change. You know all of this. But please note. We don’t ask to be changed into something that we are not. We ask to be changed into who we really are. We are not like Cain. We are like Abel which other parts of the Bible describe as a man of righteousness and faith. And that is who we are becoming, by the power of the Spirit.

So, why am I saying these things? Well, it’s an attempt at encouraging a balanced understanding of who we are. It’s just a fact that we still sin, and sometimes we sin terribly. That is not something that we should try to ignore. It’s part of our situation. But there is more to the story. We do sin, but we are not sinners. That is not who we are. We are saints, people being transformed into the image of Jesus. So, even when we find ourselves in the midst of some sinful mess that we have caused we can still tell ourselves that this is not who we are. Yes, we need to repent and all that goes with it. But we are not like Cain. We are like Abel. We are Christians. And so, I think we, of all people, can be so very optimistic even in the mess. Or to use a good church word, we can rejoice in what Jesus is doing. He is changing us.

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