Tuesday, July 11, 2017

11 July 2017
The Mark of Cain
            Today we look at the exchange between Cain and God found in Genesis 4:9-16. Adam and Eve, with the help of the LORD, create a son whom they name Cain, and another son named Abel. Cain and Able offer sacrifices to God. The LORD regards Abel and his sacrifice but has no regard for Cain and his sacrifice. Cain becomes depressed-the first hint something is not quite right. God speaks a warning to Cain-sin is waiting for you; you must master it. Don’t let this get out of control. Do well-in my eyes, not yours-and you will be accepted. Cain lures Abel into the field and kills him. God questions Cain and pronounces judgement-Cain is cursed from the ground, banished from God’s presence yet promised God’s protection.
             In the first exchange God asks ‘Where is your brother? What have you done?’  Cain replies ‘I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Cain’s response can be taken as an accusation against God- ‘I am not my brother’s keeper-you are, and you haven’t kept him very well, have you?’ Abel’s death may have been unexpected-up to this point, as far as we know, nobody had died-in which case Cain’s accusation echoes Adam- ‘the woman whom you gave me…’; this is your fault, God, not mine. On the other hand, this may be the response of a psychopath who truly cannot tell right from wrong nor feel remorse. Cain could simply be saying ‘What do I care? He wasn’t my responsibility.’ Perhaps Cain is the first in a long line of those who refuse to acknowledge God’s authority. Surely Cain had some knowledge of God. Was someone else whispering in his ear ‘you will not surely die…’
            What happens next can be both satisfying and troublesome. Cain is banished from God’s presence. While Cain’s parents were banished from the garden with the promise of creating life, Cain is banished with a curse. The ground, stained with Abel’s blood, will no longer yield its life for Cain. As a fugitive and wanderer apart from God, Cain will have no rest. This would satisfy the reader’s sense of justice were it not for what happens next. Cain responds by crying out ‘My punishment is more than I can bear’, which may also be translated ‘My sin is too great to be forgiven’; or ‘Is my sin too great to be forgiven?’  Once again, this could be the cry of one who feels unjustly accused, being punished for what he believes to be failure on God’s part. It could the cry of one who, incapable of feeling remorse, cannot understand why he needs punished at all. It could be the response of one who, finally realizing the gravity of what has taken place, truly believes he is beyond any hope of forgiveness.
            In response to Cain’s protest God puts a protective mark on Cain, guaranteeing him a lifetime to reflect on what he did. Cain may have been banished from God’s presence but not from God’s protection. Is this the act of a gracious God who refuses to give up on His fallen creatures, or justice meted out by a holy God determined to punish all wrongdoing? Or both?
            These questions, while intended to be thought provoking, are not merely another thought exercise. The issues involved here are timeless, just as relevant today as they were to the original readers. The positions we take, the way we interpret this story, reveal more about ourselves than they do about God. Are we our brother’s keepers? Does any sin against another human being constitute a sin against God? Is it possible to separate ourselves from God to such an extent that return becomes impossible? At what point does God simply give up?  Our answers demonstrate our willingness to accept God and to be accepted, our desire to know the One who cannot be fully known; to understand the One who cannot be fully understood, to love the One who first loved us.          
I close with a conversation I had with my wife about God putting His protective mark on Cain.
Me: Why would God do that?
Her: To teach him a lesson.
Me: You mean like give him a second chance?
Her: Yes. That’s what parents do.


No comments:

Post a Comment