God’s love for Cain and for Abel Genesis 4:1-10
T he story of Cain and Abel speaks to guilty people who have screwed it up, and to innocent victims. It speaks to those who are tempted to resentment and bitterness, and to those who despair when believers fall prey to evil. It speaks most fully when seen together with the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
When considered on its own, Genesis 4:1-10 is a story about Cain, and how the Lord deals with him as he becomes a murderer and an outcast. Cain is angry when God favours Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Perhaps Cain felt he was the victim of some divine unfairness. Perhaps he wanted to be lord of his brother, but God’s favour threatened this aim. The Lord draws near to Cain, precisely because he is in this sullen, angry state, and asks him some hard questions: ‘Why are you angry? … If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?’ These questions challenge any assumption Cain may have that he has a reason to be angry, or that God is treating him unjustly. The Lord does not explain the favour thing to Cain. He simply but earnestly warns Cain that he is at a crossroads. Will he do what is right, despite being the unfavoured one, or will he let the vampire sin in, and become himself one who crouches to spring, and take the life of another? This is not perhaps, what Cain would have liked from God, but it is, nonetheless, the good gift that the Lord has for Cain on the verge of Cain’s selfdestruction; it is what he needs.
After the killing, God again draws near and asks Cain hard questions: ‘Where is your brother Abel? … What have you done?’ Cain lies and counter-questions God, but for nothing. God knows, and announces the curse and exile that Cain’s sin has brought. Cain breaks: ‘My punishment is more than I can bear … whoever finds me will kill me.’ The Lord does not reply, ‘Away from me, you who are cursed’, but reassures Cain that he himself will protect his life. It is striking how much God is on Cain’s side through all this, even though he does not favour Cain’s sacrifice, and cannot leave his sin unpunished. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, even towards sinners who make all the wrong choices. Without endorsing his sin, God loves the sinner.
Abel seems incidental in Genesis, but the New Testament makes more of him. Abel probably means ‘breath’—a passing puff of air—and that, it seems, is all he is: favoured by God, but cut down too soon in a nihilistic act of violent bitterness. Over him rises the cry for justice, for judgement. He is lamentable, a wound in the world. Jesus classes Abel among the prophets (Luke 11:51). What is the word he speaks? On one hand he sets the pattern of life for those who live by faith. Hebrews 11:1 understands faith as the hidden factor in Abel’s offering, that makes his life a prophetic word. He is the type of the righteous in the world, so those who live by faith should not be surprised to be cut down before their time by the wicked in their envy. ‘The world was not worthy of [him]’, says Hebrews 11:38.
On the other hand, when we set Jesus alongside Abel, a word of hope succeeds Abel’s cry of indignation. Like Abel, the righteous Jesus was cut down too soon by the bitterness of envious men. But Jesus shows that God will not abandon his holy one to the grave, and when Jesus’ disciples receive him back with joy from the dead, we see the final end of the story of the righteous. We can look back at Abel and be comforted, for we see in Jesus what was not visible in Genesis 4: that Abel will walk the way that Jesus pioneered and perfected: the way, not simply of death, but of death and resurrection. God will not abandon the righteous.
Jesus also expands the story of Cain. Jesus’ shed blood cries for the sinner, not against the sinner, and so Cain may find hope too. There is a deed that will undo his, and a way back, even for a murderer. If the Cains of the world ask it, they are marked with Jesus’ blood and find protection and favour too. They are reconciled both to God and to their victims as well, in the end. Whether you have wronged or have been wronged, the God of Cain, Abel and Jesus has a word of hope for you.