“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.'” (Genesis 4:3-7 ESV)
I have written about this passage before. (See When Sin Crouches at the Door) In fact, it seems that every time I read the story of Cain and Abel it gives me pause. I always wonder: “How would I react?” “Would I be more like Cain or more like Abel?”
The truth is that I would like to fancy myself like Abel, offering a better sacrifice, one in which God would be pleased, but I have doubts about that. Would God really accept my sacrifice? More pointedly, would I really be willing to offer the kind of sacrifice God would regard? If I am being honest, I have to wonder.
I am bit surer that I wouldn’t get angry like Cain did, and I certainly wouldn’t take it out on Abel, right?
Do I protest too much?
I picture myself in my comfortable 21st Century world feeling fairly smugly that I wouldn’t be like that, but I’m not so sure I should be confident about that. The circumstances were much different then.
Cain didn’t have a world full of people to which to compare himself. He couldn’t have said, “At least I am not as bad as so and so.” He wouldn’t have had centuries of wisdom at his fingertips in the way of sermons, books, fables with morals and the Bible. Cain didn’t have the Bible or any moral compass but his own conscience and experience, such as it was.
When I first read this passage (again), I read it to say that God didn’t regard Cain’s offering, and so I thought it wasn’t that God didn’t regard Cain. But then I read it again and realized I was wrong:
“And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
It was personal for Cain. God didn’t regard him. What did he do wrong? What is the lesson in the story for us?
As I pointed out in the previous blog post on the subject, the clues are in the text. Abel offered more than Cain did – the best of his flock. The implication is that Cain didn’t offer the best, the “first fruits” of his produce.
It wasn’t necessarily that Cain did something wrong; rather he didn’t do it right. He didn’t offer as much a Abel did. Abel offered a better sacrifice, and God took notice of him because of it.
Abel went above and beyond in his offering to God. Maybe Abel’s offering was more heartfelt. Maybe Abel was more thankful to God. We don’t know.
Cain might have felt that Abel was just “sucking up” to God. Abel was making him look bad, as if it was a competition for God’s attention. Maybe Cain thought, “I’m not going to suck up to God like that!” Right? Don’t we think like that sometimes?
Of course, that is pride talking.
Would Abel have been inclined to think the same way if the shoe was on the other foot? If God regarded Cain’s sacrifice, and not Abel’s, would Abel have responded the same way? We don’t know. We can’t really say.
Did Abel just get lucky? Did he just “happen” to offer a better sacrifice? Did he really know what he did “right”? Again, we don’t know.
It seems to me that Cain didn’t know what he did wrong. He might have made some assumptions, but his assumptions were apparently not very good.
Maybe Cain did know why God regarded Abel and his sacrifice, but he wasn’t willing to offer that much. If Cain knew what the difference was between his sacrifice and Abel’s sacrifice, he really had no excuse, but we don’t know.
Maybe he thought God was being arbitrary. Maybe he thought Abel had an unfair advantage. Maybe he thought God just liked Abel better for no good reason – or at least that is what he told himself.
In the text, though, we see that God tried to console and counsel Cain. He offered advice and hope. He warned Cain of the danger of letting the sin crouching at the door get the best of him.
If there is one thing I take away from this story, it is this: regardless of what we are going through, and that we have done or haven’t done, the best answer is always to go back to God. My own perspective on my circumstances is limited and flawed. God knows what is best for us, and He has the best intentions towards us. We need to trust Him.
If Cain had listened to God, he could have provided a sacrifice the next time that God would regard, and life would be good.
If Cain had trusted God and listened to His advice, I don’t think Cain would have been angry enough to murder his brother. If Cain had taken his anger to God, he wouldn’t have taken his anger out on Abel.
We often don’t get what we think we deserve. Maybe (sometimes) we don’t get what we actually do deserve, but that cuts both ways. We might not get the positive consequences we “deserve”, but we also might not get the negative consequences we deserve. When we “get away with” something, do we rue the fact that we didn’t suffer the consequences? I think not!
Life isn’t fair. Not in this world. Still, God works all things together for the good – not just our good, but the good of all people and all creation (eventually anyway). That is His promise to us. We just need to hang in there. We need to stick by God’s side.
Where else would we turn anyway?
In the end, God actually loves us. We could live in a world in which the creator didn’t love His creation. What an amazing thing that we live in a world in which God loves us! We know this from the fact that God emptied Himself to become one of us. And He didn’t just become one of us, He allowed Himself to be sacrificed in human flesh for us. He endured our pain, and He bore our sin. We can trust a God like that.
It helps to realize, too, that this world isn’t all there is, though we often lose site of that. Jesus has prepared rooms for all of us who call him Lord and Savior. We can’t even imagine what God has in store for us. It will make all the “good” things in this life pale in comparison. We have no reason to be a Cain and every reason to be an Abel.
Perhaps, the difference is nothing more than perspective. Maybe Abel had the right perspective about himself and God, while Cain’s perspective was too limited. Maybe Abel was willing to give his best to God because he trusted Him, he believed God and believed God loved him. Abel was thankful for what he had, knowing that all of it came from God in the end.