Cain-likeness vs. Christ-likeness
Nov 28, 2007 / By: Jeffrey Jones
Category: Christian Living
Lately I've been pondering Cain. Not that I enjoy thinking about famous murderers, but I do think there is something instructive about Cain's story. There is something we can take away from his negative example, something (I hope) more profound than: "Cain was a murderer. Murder is bad. So, let's not be like him." First, Cain's story in Genesis is part of an overarching narrative that explains how human evil manifests itself in the human race. This means we can learn something about ourselves from his story. Second, 1 John 3:12 uses Cain as a counter-example to Christian love. By understanding his story, we can learn how not to love. And since this is a blog on a pro-life website, we would be amiss to not say something about how Cain's story might inform Christian pro-life work. Looking at his negative example has actually shaped and motivated my own heart toward the loving rescue of the potentially aborted unborn.
Cain's Story as Part of Genesis 1-11
To fully appreciate Cain's story we have to read it, not as an isolated story detached from the rest of Genesis, but as fully part of its overarching framework. In a nutshell, the entire book of Genesis explains how God plans to deal with the evil that has invaded his creation, especially within humanity. The first 11 chapters focus on how God's very good world, humanity in particular, has gone bad; chapters 12-50 lay down God's surprising solution for it. Namely, God plans to deal with the problem of evil through the highly dysfunctional family of Abraham (see Gen 12:1-3). Genesis 1-11, however, helps us understand what that evil precisely entails. This is where the story of Cain fits in.
Cain's story immediately comes after the "Fall" story in Genesis, where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, get cursed, banished from the Garden, and are prohibited access to the tree of life. At very least then, the story of Cain informs how the effects of the "Fall" manifest themselves in the world; that is, how evil manifests itself among human beings. From Cain's story, in context with the rest of the narratives in Genesis 2-4, we learn that evil manifests itself particularly by destroying human-to-human relationships. Genesis 2, for instance, makes plain that man was created precisely for relationships. When there was just a single man, God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone." He then created a woman to be his helper. God, thus, created humans for relationships - to be interdependent, to need one another. And if we were created for interdependent, harmonious relationships, what part of life might we expect to become impacted by the "Fall"? The story of Cain makes plain that human-to-human relationships have become quite destructive since the "Fall."
What comes after Cain's story is often overlooked, but it continues to make clear that post-Fall evil has corrupted human relationships. The end of Genesis 4 gives a brief encounter with one of Cain's descendents, Lamech. All that is recorded about him is a monologue directed toward his not one but two wives: "Adah and Zillah hear my voice / You wives of Lamech listen to what I say: / I have killed a man for wounding me and a young man for striking me / If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-seven fold" (4:23-25). Two chapters prior, Adam had excited and loving words for his wife, now Lamech is ruling his wives with murderous threats. Don't miss what is being emphasized: the area where post-Fall evil has made its destructive influence is within human relationships.
As for Cain's actual story, most know that it is one of fratricide, the murder of a brother. Yet this again draws attention to the fact that human evil manifests itself in destructive relationships. Cain killed his own brother out of jealousy. And to make matters worse, when God himself questions Cain about the whereabouts of his brother, he answers with: "Am I my brother's keeper?" This statement in particular says a great deal about Cain. It speaks to his presumption that he felt no moral responsibility toward his fellow man, even his own blood. What is more, I believe Cain's story says something about humanity in general, giving us a taste of life after the "Fall." Namely, we live in a world where little value is attributed to human life. We learn something about ourselves from his story. We are prone to put ourselves above the needs and well-being of others, even if those others might get hurt.
It should not come as a surprise to us then to see destructiveness within our relationships. We should not be surprised to see life valued so little in our world. This is the precise thing that we humans need to be rescued from. So now, if evil within human relationships is a primary problem of the human race - evil that manifests itself in lack of responsibility toward fellow human beings, of which Cain is the epitome and of which we are all a part - then what might expect to see in a person who has been forgiven and renewed through Jesus? Answer: Someone with a selfless sort of love for his fellow man. This leads to a second way the story of Cain is instructive - to follow Christ is to love "not like Cain."
Cain as a Counter-Example to Christian Love
1 John is a book that reminds us again and again of our responsibility to love one another. Love lies at the very heart of the Christian message (see 1 John 3:11) and is most genuinely demonstrated in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus (1 John 3:16). This is the kind of love that Christians ought to aim for - a love that lays down its life. In contrast to that kind of love, 1 John 3:12 uses Cain as an example, an example of how not to love. "For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother." Cain stands in contrast to the life-sacrificing nature of Christian love. Cain, to the contrary, took life. He valued his own life above his brother's and therefore felt he could end it. Christians rather are to be known for their willingness to do the opposite. To clarify, this does not necessarily mean a literal sacrifice of one's life, only a willingness to do so. It most often means simply giving up of possessions: "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18)." If Christians are to love not like Cain then it means they should rather die (like Christ) than kill (like Cain). It means selflessness. It means sacrifice. It means action.
How might this motivate us in Christian pro-life work? First, we were created for relationships. We were created for interdependent relationships. We ought therefore to feel a responsibility toward our fellow man; that is, toward any human being regardless of race, gender, economic status, and certainly whether born or unborn. If we don't think that we are supposed to be our "brother's keeper" then we are quite like Cain. Being created for relationships, we have a responsibility to care for the well-being of fellow human beings. Second, following Jesus and not Cain means that it is not enough merely to talk about how we value life but it involves action. Far too many passively acknowledge the need to protect the unborn yet do very little about it. Love, the not-like-Cain sort of love, selflessly sacrifices when it sees a brother in need.