When I was about 12, I convinced myself that my parents loved my siblings more than they loved me. My sister, I decided, was most like my mom, so logically that meant she liked my sister better than me. My brother,
being the only boy and, in my mind, a make-up for the mistake of having a second girl instead of a boy, was obviously liked better by my dad. Which left me in the middle, stuck in this mind-space and convinced I was
unwanted, unloved, and a mistake.
Now let me be clear. My parents are WONDERFUL people and they NEVER did anything to feed this belief; it was simply the enemy attacking my insecurities as quickly as I would let him in. And honestly, I let that belief go on for a lot longer than it should have and as a result, it poisoned my relationship with God. I came to believe that
And then I started looking at the world around me. Why did some people receive healing and others die of cancer? Why did the Smiths have four children, all taken away to foster care out of an abusive home
Um, no. No, no, no, no, no, no. No!
Just like the enemy played on my skewed perception of myself, he
LOVES to use this argument to poison our relationship with God. But it simply isn’t true. Cain and Abel, well they prove that.
Genesis 4:1-5 begins the chronicle of the very first set of siblings. We don’t get a lot of Cain and Abel’s background; almost none about their
childhood, but it does appear as though one brother is favored over the other.
However, it’s been my experience that within the first few minutes of getting to know a person, you can usually decide how you feel about them. At least on some level. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know, but we make judgments about people based on their actions, words, and reactions all the time. It’s human nature. In the beginning, both brothers appear to be following the same natural direction of offering thanks to the God who gave them life, but a second glance reveals something distinct about the two: their motivations are vastly different.
Abel Gives with a Gracious Heart
Verse 3 is the crux: Abel brought the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock (NIV). In other words, he brought the best of the best to lay before the throne of God. If we read Numbers 18:12 we are reminded that the Lord expects us to show our gratitude by giving back all the best of what we have been blessed with. Granted, the laws haven’t actually been set yet, but that’s not really the point. God sees our hearts and knows if our giving is out of gratitude for His love, grace, and mercy, or if it is out of obligation and a misguided notion that doing the right thing will earn us brownie points which we store up to prove our worth when we inevitably screw things up.
The fact is, we can’t buy our way into God’s grace–that’s the antithesis of grace and all it stands for. Abel epitomizes Psalm 147:10-11
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
Abel gains the Lord’s favor, not for being Abel but for having a heart that seeks to delight in the Lord (Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3: 12). But just because the Lord delights in us, doesn’t mean we will always have an easy life. We know how this story ends, and it’s not with Abel being made King of the world. No, injustice seems to triumph as Cain brutally murders his brother and Abel’s blood calls out to the Lord from the ground (Genesis 4:10). As with much of this world, appearances can be deceiving. As it turns out this unfortunate situation is just the beginning of a greater redemption story. Abel’s sacrifice, of his flock and, as it turned out, his life wasn’t a mistake. God doesn’t make those. As hard as it is for us to understand, sometimes the righteous are persecuted and even murdered, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t ‘go well for them’ (Genesis 4: 7). On this side of heaven, we don’t always see the whole picture, but Abel was ultimately rewarded. And, his life and death pointed us directly to Jesus, whose blood still cries out from the Earth to God who uses it to cleans all of us, unworthy
Cain Gives out of Obligation
In Genesis 4:3 we see Cain’s sacrifice is less than worthy in the added adjective of some compared to Abel’s best. If we take a look at Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12-13 we see that we are commanded to love the Lord with ALL our heart, mind and strength, not SOME. The whole purpose of a sacrifice or offering is to present the best to the Lord, not your leftovers. A closer look at the situation shows that God is not playing favorites, but drawing near to those who draw near to him. Not so shockingly, this relationship is meant to be reciprocal! So many times we are quick to discount God
The whole purpose of a sacrifice or offering is to present the best to the Lord, not your leftovers.
heese to go with the Whine?
After his offering is rejected, Cain sulks (Genesis 4:6-7)…like a baby. Despite this attitude, God personally speaks to Cain. He doesn’t ignore his whining as my parents would have done (with good reason—let’s just say I was a world class sulker back in the day. And if I’m truly honest, I’ll admit that I can still throw a world-class pity party on occasion). No, God doesn’t ignore him, he encourages Cain. Even though he already knows what is in Cain’s heart and the path he will choose, God still cares enough about his child to point him down the right path. Which he repeats over and over in scripture:
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.Genesis 4:7
The same command is repeated in Deuteronomy 4:40; 5:16,33; 6:3,18; Jeremiah 7:23; 38:20; 42:6; Ephesians 6:2-3. God makes Cain a promise: do what is right and it will go well for you. I love how simple this command is, and also how true. Now that doesn’t mean that all good people will be wealthy and healthy–that’s the world’s view of ‘go well’. God’s version is much more eccentric, but also more fulfilling. Cain is whining and angry because he’s embarrassed that his little brother ‘won’ the favor of God–which is ultimately the best prize there is. In the end, Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy and vengeance. His heart was hard and cold, but God’s definition of “go well with you” different from the world’s. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but this life is just a blip on the eternity radar and the best things will happen to those who love God with their whole being–even if we don’t experience it until we are in his presence.
A Redemption Story
The story comes to a close in Genesis 4:13-17 where redemption and grace are always offered by God. Even to Cain, and, it appears he accepted (I hope). Although it’s hard to say given Lamech’s (Cain’s great-great-great-
grandson) declaration in verses 22-24 whether or not Cain changed, he at least taught his sons what it is to sin and be punished for it.
Balancing grace with holiness is tricky business. He commands our obedience as a byproduct of our relationship (John 14:15), but we can’t obey our way out of our sinful natures. One hard truth I’ve come to terms with is that I identify a lot more with Cain than with Abel. I get angry and embarrassed when I fall short of God’s expectations, but instead of heeding the advice of my father to do what is right, I sometimes rebel and do what I think is right–and that is not the same thing. And so I have to find some practical things to master the sin that is constantly crouching at my door. One thing I’ve learned works for me is having someone to hold me accountable. There is nothing quite like having a sister in Christ who knows you well point out that you are believing a lie. Yeah, it hurts, but it also makes me strive to do better. After I get over wanting to kick them in the teeth for pointing it out in the first place (kidding…mostly).
Worshiping God the Right Way
Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to worship the Lord. No, I don’t mean there are certain kinds of instruments or songs that the Lord appreciates the most. Worshiping well has to do with your motivation. Seriously, check out Jeremiah 7—In this chapter, the people are going to the temple and doing everything right, but their hearts are all wrong! It’s not having the perfect worship set or the best pre-roll and pictures, or even
Worshiping and loving God means obeying his commands. Do what is right, and it will go well with you. We see this from Genesis to Revelation. We don’t obey God because we have to (grace, remember?), we obey because it is a reflection of our deep love for Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-18). We deserve nothing but are given everything–favored by God when we seek His heart with our whole hearts.