One of the biblical stories that has always fascinated me is an early one- that of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). We will recall that after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil , He sent them out from the Garden of Eden, and in time, they had children the first of which were Cain (the eldest) and Abel (the second born).
Now Cain became a farmer whilst Abel was a shepherd, but the trouble started when they presented offerings to God, and He preferred Abel’s sacrifices to that of Cain. Lack of faith may have been the reason but we don’t know for sure, but what is important is what happened next. Cain was angry and jealous at his offering being less well regarded than that of his younger brother, and he went into the fields and murdered Abel. So, we are early into the Genesis story and we already have the first murder and the first murderer – Cain.
He lied to God when asked where Abel was (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) and Cain became a cursed man. God banished him from the kingdom and Cain became a “a fugitive and vagabond” (Genesis 4:12), but to protect him, he was given what has become known as the ‘Mark of Cain’, and it is believed that his family line perished in the Great Flood.
In so many respects it is a very sad tale. God must have been so disappointed with his creation of humankind at that point- Adam and Eve had let Him down, as had their first born Cain and His new world which was so good, was already being spoilt and we know that in time things got much worse, so much more that God felt He had to start again with new people such as Noah.
For me though, there is a really important lesson here which Cain refused to learn, and it is something that is still a critical message for us to take on board. When God could see that Cain was unhappy about His reaction to his offering, He told him:
“If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it” (Genesis 4:7). Cain was so jealous and angry that he could not see what was right, and that if he had, then he could have had peace. But he couldn’t, so Cain allowed sin to overtake and rule him.
Anger is of course a negative condition, but we can allow it to descend on us whether we are stuck in traffic, being irritated by something that is happening (or not happening) or when we just get ‘bogged down’ in “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.
I think as Christians though, the story of Cain teaches us several important lessons for life:
- Worshipping God is serious business and that although we can pretend that we honour Him, you can’t fool God with what you bring to Him;
- We need to learn how to control our anger before it takes us into sin;
- It is not for us to vent our rage by taking the law into our own hands -leave that to God;
- Learn from our mistakes – if our offering to God is not acceptable, find out why and get better in honouring Him- Cain could have sought help from his brother rather than murdering him
The wiser way is to listen to and act out Paul’s great epistle:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).