Grace in Genesis: Cain and Abel

cain and abel

Genesis 4:1-16 NRSV

I believe the story of the world’s first brothers has much to teach us about the unfairness of life. Cain and Abel were both hardworking men. At the time, they were holding down two of the most important jobs in the entire world, providing the sustenance needed for the propagation of humanity. Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain was a tiller of the ground. And although these important farmers did not yet have a First Christian Church in their town where they could gather each week for worship, both worshipped their creator as faithfully as they knew how.

Both Cain worshipped God, put God first in their lives, gave thanks to their creator for the gift of life by offering the best of who they were: the best of their talents, abilities, and gifts. Abel offered the firstborn from one of the sheep he tended, and Cain offered the produce of his field that he grew and harvested with his own hands.

Then Cain learns something that all of us who have lived in this fragmented world know all too well. Life is not fair. We are not told exactly what happened to cause Cain to believe that God loved Abel more than him, why Cain believed that his offerings to God were for all for naught, but we can certainly make what I believe are some very fair assumptions.

Maybe Abel enjoyed better health than Cain. Maybe he had less aches and pains, fewer allergies than Cain. Perhaps Abel was better looking, more athletic, faster, had nicer teeth and hair. Maybe he was a lot smarter than Cain. Maybe these other people who miraculously seemed to be around at the time, preferred Abel’s leg of lamb, rack of lamb, lamb stew or lamb chops over Cain’s broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga, and carrots. Perhaps Abel had a nicer house, a bigger farm, finer clothes, or just a more comfortable life in general.

Whatever it was, Cain believed that Abel was more blessed, more favored, more accepted, and more loved by God. Thus, it became very obvious to all and especially to God that Cain was angry. And who could blame him? Life is not fair. For no reason, without any explanation, bad things happen to some very good people all the time. And likewise, without any rhyme or reason, some very good things happen to some very average or below average people all the time. And our natural inclination is to be angry at it all. Why, it is just second-nature.The Psalmist clearly understood this as we can feel the anger behind the words of the 73rd Pslam.

1 Truly God is good to the upright,*    to those who are pure in heart.  2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;  my steps had nearly slipped.  3 For I was envious of the arrogant;  I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  4 For they have no pain;  their bodies are sound and sleek.  5 They are not in trouble as others are;  they are not plagued like other people.  10 Therefore the people turn and praise them,*  and find no fault in them.*  12 Such are the wicked;  always at ease, they increase in riches. 13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean  and washed my hands in innocence.  14 For all day long I have been plagued,  and am punished every morning.

Cain, like all of us living in this world filled with inequity and injustice, became angry. His countenance fell. Like second nature, Cain’s anger swelled inside of him, and everyone knew it, even God.

And God responds: “Cain, I can understand why you are angry. I really can’t blame you. For it is a natural, human response to the unfairness of this world. Therefore, it is not you being angry that I am worried about. I am worried about what you might be tempted to do with your anger, for sin is like a wild beast lurking at your door, and it craves to have you, to destroy you. So, Cain you need to master your anger, tame it, control it, transform the energy of your anger into a dynamism to do something good, something beautiful and wonderful to counter the injustice and inequity in our world, something constructive, something honorable, something amazingly gracious and loving.”

I believe that Christians have a tendency to believe that being angry is a sin; therefore, we go to great lengths to avoid anger. But in avoiding anger, I believe we can easily become disengaged, complacent, devoid of the passion and fire that I believe Jesus wants us to have. I believe the world needs more Christians to let our countenances fall and become consumed with passion to live with an amazing grace that counters the unfairness in of the world.

However, as the story of the world’s first two brothers teaches us, anytime we are angry, we need to be cautious, for as the Lord says, sin is always lurking at the door. Unfortunately, Cain allowed his anger to get the best of him, and he killed his brother Abel.

Then, this one who believed in fairness, this one who believed in justice, this one who believed that people should reap what they sow, clearly understood the dire consequences for his evil actions. There was no doubt he should be exiled, forced to live outside of his community. There was no doubt he deserved to be forever separated from God. And there, wandering alone without the God he worshipped, others would want to bring him to justice and repay him an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Cain can almost hear the drumbeats of justice and the shouts from the mob: “Cain, you took a life, and it is only fair that we take yours!”

Cain cries out: “O God, the punishment that I deserve is too much to bear!”

Now what happens next in this story should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian.

I hear many people say that the Bible paints two very different portraits of God. They say that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, judgment and vengeance, a God of Hell, fire and brimstone; whereas, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, grace and mercy. I suspect this may be part of the reason that while some say they believe in love and grace, they make it very clear with their words and deeds, that they also believe in judgment and condemnation.

However, I believe God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I believe God is love. I believe God will always be love, and I believe God has always been love. Many point to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and talk about God punishing the first two humans by kicking them out of the garden; however, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago in a sermon, the story is about the human consequences of knowing good and evil, and consequently, our shame. And it is a story about a God who deals with our shame by clothing us with grace, as God made garments of skin to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

Furthermore, in the next chapter, when Cain, who deserves to die for killing Abel, fears that his life is over, God emphatically says, “Not so!” God then reaches down and puts a mark of grace on Cain. Moreover, God’s grace followed Cain, even in that place east of Eden called Nod, even in that place Cain believed to be outside of God’s presence.

Thus, proving in the very beginning of all that is, that there is not, has never been, and will never be, anything in all of creation that can ever separate us from the love of God.

And there, East of Eden in the land of Nod, you know I believe Cain still became angry at the unfairness of the world; however, I do not believe Cain ever again allowed that anger to get the best of him. I like to believe than having been marked by unearned grace, having received unconditional love and having been given undeserved mercy, it became almost second-nature for Cain to use the energy from his anger to counter the inequities and injustices of the world, no longer with hateful and murderous thoughts, but with the same grace, love and mercy that was given to him.

For Cain in the Old Testament had discovered the same good news the Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament had discovered, that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. When he was once known as Saul of Tarsus and led in the persecution of Christians, Paul was also guilty of murdering the innocent. If anyone in the Bible deserved to die it was Paul. Killing Paul would be fair and just. Yet, through Christ Jesus, Paul was marked forever with an undeserved forgiveness, an amazing grace, and his mark is still being used to today to share this grace with people everywhere living East of Eden.

The story of the world’s first two brothers has much teach us about unfairness.  No, life is not fair. But the good news is, neither is grace. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

O God, thank you for your amazing grace that has been evident in this world since time began. Help us to share this good news with all people, in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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