Theological Thursdays – Raising Cain

The literal answer to that would be Adam and Eve. They raised Cain – as well as his brother Abel. I’ve heard their story for what has seemed a thousand times but this week challenged my previous conclusions.

If you’re not familiar with the story in Genesis 4, it’s the telling of the first murder. (AKA what feels like the logical outcome to the sibling fights in our home should I not step in.)

In the previous few chapters, Adam and Eve get kicked out of the garden because of their choice to eat the fruit directly forbidden by God. Because of the second tree in the center of the Garden (The Tree of Life), God prevents them from eating that too and being stuck permanently broken.

This means they are sent out in a now-messed up place where working won’t be easy and full of joy as it was before, where having children and living together in marriage will be full of strife and lots of pain and knowing the perfection you once had will bring daily regret.

Adam and Eve have their first kid – Cain. Then comes Abel. As a firstborn, I imagine there was a bit of rivalry in their temperaments. Cain would be the logical exacting thinker and Abel seems to be the one where having a soft heart toward God comes easier. Anyway, we don’t get a snapshot of them until they are men bringing their sacrifices in worship to God.

Cain, a farmer, brings an offering of grain. Abel, a shepherd, brings the first and best of his flock in worship. At first glance, it would seem that God is snubbing the substance of the offering but no. Later on through Moses, He makes grain offerings a thing because the exact offering you bring never has been the point – it’s always been about the giver’s heart.

The thing that happens next startled me. God is still having a conversation with his people – even in their broken condition. Still! God’s chatting with Cain about his choice in that moment. How sin is waiting, yet he needs to rule over it. Then as if in slow motion, you can almost see it. Cain’s anger overwhelms him and then next thing we know, God’s back asking him the same questions He asked his parents back in that Garden but this time about his brother Abel. Where? What?

Then God does the unexpected. He lets him live. Later Moses would be given a massive list of rules and among them – a life for a life. Yet here He, as the most creative parent ever, gives Cain his brother’s profession of shepherd for the rest of his life because the ground will now refuse to grow things for him. Can you imagine the daily remembrance of Abel? Each day as Cain wakes to care for the flock, he remembers.

The ESV translation bugs me on this one. It says “My punishment is more than I can bear.” When really, in the original language Cain is actually saying, “My sin is more than God can forgive.” He’s not complaining, rather he is completely heartbroken over his sin. Isn’t repentance in the heart of your child the aim of parenting?!

God even protects him with a “sign” which actually means “miracle” rather than what I always assumed was some kind of visual skull and crossbones.

Later in the chapter as there is a list given of Cain’s descendants, among those listed is the “father of musical instruments” – and how do we worship today?? Isn’t that the most profound picture of God’s grace? Through the man who killed his brother over an offering, God eventually brings us the gift of instruments and musical worship.

In the many times I’d heard this story, Cain was never portrayed as anything but the antithesis to Abel. Abel did what was right… so therefore Cain did not. Then the obvious conclusion I had was that God despised Cain and sent him away because his evil heart.

That is the furthest thing from the truth.

Cain was equally a child of God with Abel. Temptation ruled over him that moment and God didn’t leave him. He disciplines him in love and sets the example forever by not giving Cain what he rightly deserves: death. God’s ultimate goal is repentance – which Cain showed, and restoration – which Cain never got to see but has finally been accomplished.

There are so many challenges to take to heart. You pick the one speaking loudest to you.

For me? I’m taking notes from the most creative Parent ever.

Photo by Janusz Maniak on Unsplash

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