Monday, February 4, 2013

Great Expectations

Today's passage:  Genesis 4
     I wonder what kind of man Cain was before he killed his brother?  It is obvious he was a very hard worker. This was after the fall, after the Garden of Eden, so the fruits and vegetables no longer grew without labor.  Cain put in the work.  He dug up the hard ground, he seeded, he watered, he harvested.  This was backbreaking work, as any farmer could attest.  This was day in and day out toiling in the field.  I don't know if Cain was assigned to this task by his parents, if his God-given skills naturally suited this kind of work, or if he just enjoyed agriculture and took it upon himself to learn how to coax the soil to do his bidding, but he achieved results.  Some might argue that Abel had the significantly easier job.  As the younger brother, maybe this was just the obvious task he could accomplish in their younger days, and incidentally kept that job while Cain kept the fields.  I'm not sure how it all transpired, but I think perhaps if I had been Cain, and I slaved away every day as he had, my nose might be put out of joint too when God did not accept my offering.
     The whole reason God would not have accepted my offering though, would have been because it was my work, not His.  My work will never be enough to satisfy Him.  My works will never purchase peace and pardon with Him, no matter how well it was done.  Abel couldn't really brag about how well he had kept the sheep, because honestly, there wasn't much to it, was there?  You feed them, you herd them, you make sure they have good shelter and you keep them safe.  I'm not saying shepherding was nothing work, but compared to farming?  I'm thinking Cain might not have minded exchanging jobs on occasion.  So when Abel offered up one of the livestock that he tended, it wasn't really a picture of how hard he had worked.  It was the offering that God required.  It may be true that Cain's produce would have been accepted if he had only offered God his best, but he wanted to give God the leftovers.  I'm still not certain God would have accepted anything but a living sacrifice.  I don't know that fruits and veggies would suffice.  I know later, God asks for different types of offerings, and loaves and other things other than animals were brought before Him, but in this instance, I think only the flock would satisfy. 

     So what should Cain have done?  Should he go to Abel and ask him to supply a sacrifice for him as well?  Would Abel have been willing to do this?  I don't know if their relationship was close or contentious. I know that Cain was a proud man.  The Bible says, "And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell."  How could God accept Abel's sacrifice and not his?  Didn't God know how hard he had worked?  Didn't God understand all the hours he put in?  And this brother of his?  What had he done? Not much, by Cain's estimation.  It seemed unjust.  It seemed disproportionate.  Surely God made a mistake and didn't realize just what was involved in managing the land.  Maybe God had forgotten, that he, Cain, was the older more responsible brother who had selflessly helped provide for his family.  I can see the thoughts swirling in Cain's head.  It just wasn't fair.  And how many times had his mother proclaimed him the savior of their family?  When he was born, she had said, "I have gotten a man from the LORD" implying that he was the accepted one that God had promised while they still were in Edenland.  How could God not accept him?  It was ridiculous.  How hard he had worked all this time, all these years, and God was going to tell him he wasn't good enough?  And worse, that Abel was?  What was going on here?
     Cain measures the rejection of his sacrifice with God rejecting him. But it is clearly not the case.  If it had been, why does God seek Cain out and encourage him to do better?  God says to Cain, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"  Cain would have to lay down his pride to do well.  But he wasn't willing to do that.  He wasn't willing to accept God's way, even though God's way is the only way.  He wasn't willing to recognize Abel's no-work-involved sacrifice.  Maybe Cain hadn't given God the best of what he had harvested, but it was still more than anything Abel could offer.  Sheep.  Humph!  What nonsense!  Cain was the Promised One (or so he probably thought).  Cain was the Firstborn.  Cain was the son who held all the family's hopes and dreams of deliverance.  Then to be flat out rejected.  It hurt.  It confused him.  It didn't make any sense.  And Cain never gets over it.  Instead of listening to God's warnings, instead of taking God's advice, he takes matters into his own hands.  He kills his brother.  He rids himself of the reminder that he was less.  He thinks that somehow eliminating Abel will somehow make his offering more acceptable to God.  Now who is ridiculous?  It does not have the desired effect.  God does not all of a sudden see how hard Cain has worked and say, "Oh yes, I understand now.  I do accept your sacrifice, Cain."  How Cain thinks it will work that way can only be irrational blinding pride.
     God never rejected Cain's offering on the basis that he hadn't worked hard enough.  He rejected it on the basis that no amount of work could help him.  He rejected it because it is by grace alone that He accepts us.  I shouldn't be surprised that Cain didn't understand this, because unfortunately, there are too many people today who still don't understand.  They can't see why all the good things they do will never, ever be enough to appease God.  They can't believe that all the work they have put in can never be acceptable.  They figure there must be some way to earn our way to God.  That is because they can't comprehend God's immeasurable love for us.  They can't understand a God who would sacrifice for us, instead of the other way around.  Why?  Because that is not how they would have done it.  It isn't how I would have saved this world either.  It is not how any idol or god requires salvation.  Every other religious system requires something from the believer.  Not God.  He just requires that we believe and accept His methods.  That we humble ourselves and accept His ways.  His way is to provide salvation for us.  Abel seemed to understand this.  Cain never would.  Maybe it is because he believed himself to be the way of salvation.  Maybe his parents voiced their belief that he would be their Deliverer once too often and Cain couldn't fathom that this was only his parents plan, not God's.  And there is no indication that Cain ever asks God for forgiveness or redemption.  In fact, verse 16 says, "And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD..."  Cain never gets it.  He could have, but his pride would not be overcome.  And humility is the most necessary ingredient to salvation.
     Cain was a hard worker. But it wasn't enough, not when it came to eternity.  It wasn't enough for him, and it will not be enough for any of us.  Cain never accepted or recognized that whatever holiness we pretend at, it can never measure up to God's.  The real question is, how many others will allow pride to hold them back as Cain did?  No matter what we have been led to believe in the past, our works are never enough.  Only God's work, by sending His Son to die on the cross will suffice.  It is the Abel sacrifice.  And it is acceptable.

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