February 4, 2015
Cereal or Bacon?
In the story of Cain and Abel, God prefers one offering over another. We have all heard many theories about why. Some theories are better than others, but if we are honest, hardly any do justice to the text. Take the text seriously. Read it slowly. Does God choose Abel’s offering because he prefers meat? Or because Abel had greater faith or offered “first fruits” while Cain did not?
Upon close examination, it is interesting that Cain and Abel give offerings to God without explicit command to do so, or instructions about whether to offer cereal or bacon. It may also be important that Cain takes after Adam in tilling the soil. Abel offered the “firstfruits”, but Cain’s grain is not somehow inferior. Is God just making a random, arbitrary choice?
Cain is not condemned because of his offering. He is not even condemned for his anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? God responds a certain way to Cain’s emotions:
The Lord wants to know why Cain is so out of sorts. God tells him that if he “does well” — presumably, handles the situation — then the matter will resolve itself. Otherwise, if Cain does not manage his rage, then he will be compelled to deal with lurking sin (4:6–7)
Instead of controlling his anger, Cain lets it have full sway over him and murders his brother (4:8).
God does not actually condemn Cain when rejecting his offering. Cain’s sin was in his future, not his past (4:6–7). God did not even regard Cain’s anger as sin. The story implies that once sin enters the world its consequences are not proportionate, predictable, or symmetrical. Cain was a victim of that outcome. Still, he might have responded very differently. As the Lord had urged him, he could have handled the situation. It would surely have been difficult, but it was hardly impossible.
Rather than accepting that his parents’ actions had made his life painfully and unfairly difficult, he exacerbated the problem by increasing the world’s sinfulness with the callous, brutal murder of his brother. Cain sowed the ground not with seed, but with his brother’s blood.
When Cain is afraid that the consequences will be too much to bear, Lord protects Cain from suffering what his brother suffered by marking him as off limits. Ironically, this gracious act on God’s part is another form of unfairness. Grace, however, is the best kind of unfairness. Since God’s final word was a gracious one, Cain will have a life beyond this terrible episode a little farther east of Eden (4:16).
Cain’s life is a gift of grace after an act that was punishable by death. He even has children and builds a city. Pretty good for a guy who is cursed. But he will not carry on the family business anymore, and the consequences of his actions have repercussions throughout the rest of his life and the overall biblical narrative. Still, the dominant theme of these first four chapters seems to focus more on grace than on depravity. This story is less about bacon and cereal than it is about grace and the need to discern reactions to emotions.
Ragin’ or prayin’?
How should we view our emotions? Are they sinful? How does God respond to emotions in this text? What does God’s response say about disobedience and emotion? What does God condemn, actions or emotions? What are some ways we can avoid letting emotions lead to harmful actions?