Lenten devotional 2023, Day 7

Genesis 4:1-16

Please read our passage for the day, the story of Cain and Abel here:  Genesis 4:1-16

We, the Restless Wanderers

I've always felt sorry for Cain in Genesis 4.  Perhaps, this is simply because I'm the type of person who roots for the bad guy in movies, or at least hopes for some sort of lenience or redemption for the antagonist after it's all been said and done.  This compassion, I think, can cause me to overlook the very evil things that the villain has done, the people they've hurt.  Of course they should be punished . . . but I tend to be more interested in finding some redeeming quality and opportunity for redemption in these characters than acknowledging the very real and necessary consequences for their crimes.  So far as it is to say, I would not make a good judge, or prosecutor, or probably not any sort of law enforcement officer at all.

But perhaps, there's a little more for me than this in the text itself.  Maybe it's that I don't think God gives Cain a fair shake . . . it's not fair.  The text does not give us insight into Cain's heart when he gives his offering to the Lord.  Cain and Abel are both equally coming as worshippers of the Lord by bringing their respective offerings.  Cain is a farmer.  Abel raises livestock.  Cain brings fruit of the land.  Abel brings the fat portions of his animals.  We can guess at Cain's heart: Maybe he's giving his offering begrudgingly.  Or maybe he's not bringing the best of his fruits while Abel is bringing the fat portions of the firstborn of his flocks.  Maybe, but as a seminary prof strongly pointed out of this passage:  We can't be certain of these assumptions of motive from the text.  The text simply does not say why God favors Abel's offering more than Cain's.  Which prompted me to exclaim:  it's not fair!

In Genesis 3, we are given the story of the Fall.  God, having found and questioned Adam and Eve, proclaims some 'curses' on the serpent, on Eve, and on Adam.  If you remember God curses the land/ground and says that Adam will have to toil hard on the earth:

17 “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

It's interesting to me that Cain is following in his father's footsteps by cultivating the land.  But does God favor Abel's offering of livestock more than the fruit of the land because Cain is following in Adam's footsteps as the cursed farmer toiling on the cursed ground?  Who knows?   Does this story show that God is a carnivore more than He is a vegetarian?  Who knows?  We don't know for certain why God favors Abel's offering and does not regard Cain's.  What we do know is that Cain becomes angry from this point and his face is downcast.  God even asks him why he is so angry and why he is so gloomy--showing that God is paying attention with great detail to Cain.  God cares and is engaging with Cain. And his advice to Cain is to not allow sin to come through the door because of his response and actions as a result of his emotional response of anger and gloominess.  Which is precisely the advice that Cain does not follow.  He acts out of the seed of anger festering in him and commits a premeditated murder against his brother.  

As heinous as this act is, I still feel for Cain and want redemption for him.  It's how I feel about "the Creature" in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, if people hadn't responded so negatively towards him because of his hideousness in the first place, then maybe he wouldn't have become so evil.  The monster is a product of injustice.  Isn't Cain a product of unfairness?  Perhaps this is why I love this story, the whole of it.  God curses Cain and casts him out of the garden, to the East of Eden, relegated to be a wanderer and drifter.  Notice all of the references to the ground and the curse of the ground.  Cain's sentence is to be in even deeper enmity with "the Ground."  He can't even toil on it.  Cain's entire livelihood and "work" is stripped away from him.  If Cain felt out of favor with the Lord in the offering of gifts, then he is feeling it x10 with God casting him out to be a restless wanderer on the earth. But we see a more vulnerable and open-hearted response by Cain to God.  He cries out saying "My punishment is more than I can bear . . . whoever finds me will kill me!"  God's response is to give Cain the mark of Cain which, if we think about it, is a blessing not a curse.

In so much as God puts a curse/judgment on Cain because of his sin, He also puts a mark of Grace and Mercy on him.  The curse of the restless wanderer, becomes the gracious blessing.  As God’s desire for humanity, "to be fruitful and multiply," necessarily requires migration out of Eden.  And we see later in Genesis that though Cain will no longer farm the land, he is blessed in his genealogy/posterity.  Even in our heinousness, God still wants to preserve. Sometimes in the Land of Nod, east of Eden, we wander outside of the good place in the wilderness or in the desert, we actually find the greatest gift of all, God’s grace.  The reality is, that sin entered the world and remains in the world.  We are all on this side of the Fall, on this side of Creation, on this side of Eden.  We are all in the land of Nod, wandering east of Eden.  And we all need the Mark of Cain.  God’s touch of grace to cover us and save us on our journey.