Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”
In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sinned, God’s very good creation began to fracture. Brokenness appeared first in the relationship between the man and the woman, then between people and God, then between people and nature. One main result of this fracturing of life was that human work would be tainted by frustration and fruitlessness.
Genesis 4 reveals how brokenness expands beyond Adam and Eve to corrupt other human relationships, especially the relationship between their first two children. Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel a shepherd. At one point, both of these workers offered a portion of what they had produced to the Lord. But “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,” but not for Cain and his offering. The text does not explain what was wrong with Cain’s offering, only that God was not pleased by it. Cain responded to God’s disfavor with anger and resentment. God reached out to him, encouraging him to “do well” so that he might “be accepted” (4:6-7). God also warned Cain about the sin that was “lurking at the door” (4:8).
Unfortunately, Cain ignored God’s encouragement and warning, throwing open the door to sin. He lured his brother out to a field and killed him. When the Lord asked Cain where Abel was, Cain answered with the classic line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9). As a result of his act of murder, Cain was cursed as an exile who would no longer be able to farm. Cain would become a “wanderer on the earth” (4:14), a broken man cut off from family and fruitful living.
I can read this familiar story from a safe, academic perspective, wondering about its peculiarities while reflecting on its themes. But if I allow myself to enter the story, my heart is quickly engaged . . . and torn. I know all too well what envy and resentment feel like, even in the workplace, when someone’s work is celebrated while mine is ignored. So I can relate to Cain, though I have never murdered anyone in anger. Similarly, I can imagine how Abel must have felt in this story, first, as God delighted in the goodness his work produced. Beyond this, I can only imagine the horror, confusion, and betrayal he must have felt in the moments before his brother ended his life.
The text of Genesis does not tell us what happened to Abel’s parents when they learned what Cain had done. I have been with parents whose children have been killed, so I know something of their unspeakable grief. But to have one’s child murdered by his brother, and then to have that brother sent away forever, to lose two children in one day because of the action of one of these children — this is more than I can bear or even wish to imagine.
It’s one thing to sit back and say that sin leads to brokenness. It’s another thing altogether to experience that brokenness, to know its horror and pain, to live with great loss and deep sadness. This is where sin takes us, all of us. Though our suffering may never reach that of Adam’s and Eve’s, it will come, and it will be excruciating.
Excruciating. Do you know where this word comes from? It’s based on the Latin word excruciatus, which is a form of the verb that means, literally, “to thoroughly crucify someone.” (You can see the root “cruc” in the middle of “excruciating.”) The result of sin is excruciating in our lives, to be sure. But God does not stand back from our pain. Rather, in Christ, God took on our excruciation. The Heavenly Father experienced the horrendous death of his own Son so that we might be set free from sin and its deathly results. Thus, in a world of excruciating pain, we have comfort, reassurance, and hope from the God who was excruciated for us.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
As you read the story of Cain and Able, how do you respond? What comes to mind? How do you feel?
What difference does it make to you that God has chosen to suffer with us, to bear our sin and pain in Christ?
Gracious God, I am reminded today of the horrible pain that sin causes. How many lives are destroyed by sin? How many families rent apart? How many parents overcome with grief? And this is just the beginning. Lord, have mercy on us!
Indeed, you do show us mercy. Most of all, you have done so in Christ, who has borne our pain and suffering so that we might be set free from sin, suffering, and death. Thank you for this amazing sacrifice.
Lord, as we still live in a world wracked by sin and suffering, may we find comfort and hope in you. May we be agents of your good news and healing in the places we live, in our families, workplaces, churches, communities.
Today, Lord, we pray especially for families suffering from division and for parents who have lost their children. Pour out your comfort and love. Lord, have mercy! Amen.
P.S. – If you’ve been receiving Life for Leaders for a while, you know that our pace through Genesis 1-3 was quite slow. Now, we will begin to move more quickly through the text, sometimes at the rate of a chapter a day. If you have time, I would encourage you to read, not just the excerpt at the top of the devotion, but also the whole chapter.