Monday, April 26, 2010

Genesis 4:6-8's Murder He Wrote

In Genesis 4:6-7, God tries to reason with Cain. (4:6’s “angry” and “face downcast” verifies and repeats/emphasizes 4:5b’s narrative.) God confronts and exhorts, wanting the best for Cain. (Borgmann describes God as a “divine Coach” here.) More broadly, this points to the reality that God wants to meet us within—and to help us thru—our temptations. Here, God delivers a timely and specific warning.

Cain is instructed to "do what is right" with a blessing to follow his obedience. This is vague, but implies that Cain should know. If not, Cain is warned that “sin is crouching at the door" and "desires" you (Rom 6:12-14; Jas 1:13-15)—and is exhorted to “master” it. Clearly, Cain has choices here, rather than being doomed to sin or inherently displeasing to God.

The metaphor of sin is crouching at our doors is quite powerful. Keizer talks about this in the context of teaching children about anger: “Something to teach a child is that anger, like other storms, often follows a warning and always comes with a price.”

Cain's lack of (recorded/verbal) response implies more pretending or a lack of concern. In any case, he decides to kill Abel as recorded in Gen 4:8. This is especially heinous given that:

a.) man is made in God's image (Gen 9:6)

b.) this is his (baby/little) “brother” (7x in passage)

c.) Abel is a good man; he had (apparently) done nothing wrong (I Jn 3:12,15)

d.) this was done under false pretenses

e.) this was pre-meditated and informed by his (impassioned) God-given reasoning ability

f.) done for a lame reason: getting rid of source of jealousy/competition

Steinbeck’s East of Eden is based on a set of Cain-like vs. Abel-like characters. He once remarked: "I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with this rejection comes anger, and with anger, some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime, guilt—and there is the story of mankind." So, will we deal with these frustrations?

g.) done after a warning (and encouragement) from God

God’s voice of reason was not enough to overcome Cain's passion and impulsiveness. In fact, it probably made him even angrier! Cain strikes at God thru Abel (as Satan does). You can also hear Cain say: “'s a sacrifice for you!” Kass observes: “Cain ought to be pleased by God’s attention and interest in him. Though he respected Abel’s offering, God speaks only to Cain; Cain seems to hold more interest, being both more promising and more problematic…Yet like many an angry person, Cain [finds this] offensive, adding insult to injury.”

The NT redeems Abel, but for now, Dorris notes that Abel is “little more than a plot device”: “The first victim of the first murder is perhaps a man to pity, but we feel no ache at his loss. Abel slides off the page like a bookmark, a symbol of what we ought to be, a fine abstraction, like righteousness, that we agree our friends should pursue with far greater diligence.” For the reader, this reduces to a call to focus on Cain!

One last thought: this is the original martyr/persecutor and "why do bad things happen to good people?" stories. It is the Bible’s introduction to the idea that being good is not all there is.

The flip side of that coin is that God is seemingly silent/inactive. Of course, a common and powerful defense is that free will is allowed to have considerable reign. Beyond that, God has intervened to some extent. Borgmann says: “God does what God can do: before the deed, God comes to Cain with whispers of good counsel and comfort.”

Big picture? This is where doubt about God’s goodness can enter, but also what makes faith possible—that there's a bigger story out there. Here, the first who went to the grave was the first to go to Heaven. God snatches victory from the jaws of defeat: killing Abel sent him to his Father's arms.

And perhaps there’s an even bigger picture. The early Church focused on the implications of righteous Abel preceding Adam to the grave. As Anderson notes: “the mouth of Hades was opened for the first time unjustly. Henceforth, the legal foundations of the underworld rested on shaky grounds.”


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