I briefly touched upon Cain last week but I wanted to really focus on him today. I find it sad that we know him for just 8 verses of scripture before he becomes a murderer. I know a lot of years get skipped in there, but that’s a quick time to go from introduction to arguably the first ever human villain in history. Last week we read about the issue that arose between Cain and his brother Abel. Unlike his brother, Cain’s offering to God wasn’t accepted. God came and spoke to Cain about this and gave him some advice, but Cain was consumed with jealousy and anger, and a few short verses later goes out and kills his brother. God finds out about it, because He’s God, and this is what He proclaims over Cain.
Genesis 4:10-12 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
In all honesty, even today when I read this it feels like a lenient punishment to me. God’s been let down by His creations before when they ate the forbidden fruit in the garden, but this is the first murder. The first act of brutal violence. My expectation would be that God would punish Cain in the same manner that Cain struck down Abel, but He doesn’t. On the surface it feels like He goes easy on Cain. At least it does until you read Cain’s response.
Genesis 4:13-14 Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! 14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”
I feel like the desperation and agony in Cain’s voice jumps off the page here. In this moment you realize that God knew what He was doing. To Cain, this is a punishment worse than death. Away from his homeland, always fearful for his life, and also away from the presence of God.
It’s interesting to me that Cain would care about being away from the presence of God. For most of my life I’ve had this harsh judgment of Cain in my mind. He’s an awful murderer, the end. But there’s way more complexity there. As I really meditated on this I started to view Cain’s motives for murder differently. He wasn’t just jealous that his brother was “better than him”, he was jealous for the favor of God. He so badly wanted the same favor of God that Abel had received that it drove him to a desperate, terrible act. Cain cared deeply about God, so much so that being cast away from His presence is something he claims he cannot handle.
As you examine this even closer, you start to realize the severity of God’s punishment. The worst thing one can experience isn’t death, it’s a life without God. We even see verses in the Bible that speak of one part of the torture of hell being the separation from God. So in a sense, Cain was now going to know a bit of hell for the rest of his life.
There are two things to remember about God if you want to understand why the absence of His presence is such a torture.
1 John 4:8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
James 1:17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
God is love, and God is the supplier of all good things. So separation from God creates an absence of true love and an absence of things that are truly good. And here’s the truly frightening part of all of this. Billions of people live in this hell every single day. They walk and talk and work and live, all the while being tortured, either knowingly or unknowingly, by the lack of God in their lives. Worst part? We know these people, and it isn’t always our first or even fourteenth priority to try to help them. Cain was banished from God’s presence, the same can’t be said for your co-workers or your cousins or your friends who are far from God. They still have an opportunity and we can help show them that opportunity.
We underestimate the hell that life is when God’s not a part of it. We get so used to His presence and His assistance and His goodness that we don’t spend much time dwelling on the torture that our lives were before we knew Him. I sat here just now at the same exact computer desk where I spent years depressed and lost and I remembered vividly what that was like. It was a living death. I went through the motions, had moments of what I thought were joy in some days, but I always ended up back at this desk faced with the fact that I was empty. If I don’t do all that I can to reach people who are still going through that now that I know the way out then I don’t deserve heaven.
Was Cain an evil man or was he a human who acted on impulse and emotion and made a horrible, awful decision? We may not be murderers but we’re all sinners. We know people like Cain who are far from God, who are governed by their emotions and selfishness, but don’t ever forget that we once were people like Cain. Sometimes we have days when we are still Cain. We’ll give God a bit of our time or a bit of our money or a bit of our talents, but not our best. How’s that different than Cain’s half-hearted offering?
I want to leave you with two thoughts today. Before we get proud and puffed up about our own righteousness, we need to make sure that we recognize just how imperfect we still are. If not for the sacrifice of Jesus, I think it’s safe to say we’d all wind up like Cain, separated for eternity from the presence of God. Guard yourself against being judgmental of those who haven’t made it into God’s arms yet, and guard yourself against slipping back into those Cain-like behaviors.
Secondly, I think we need to get real serious about rescuing people from hell. The hell they are living today is penetrable, with the power and guidance of Jesus Christ we can get into that stronghold and rescue people out of it. But once they die, that’s it. Our opportunity is over, and as most of us who have lived any time at all know, life is fleeting. The healthiest, youngest person you know could be dead by morning. That’s not meant to be morbid, it’s simply a fact. We are guaranteed nothing beyond these few moments right now. And in these few moments, people around us are separated from God’s love and His goodness. What are we going to do about that?
I love all of you and I hope your week is off to a great start! If you have any prayer requests or just need someone to talk to, my email is always open to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.