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The Cain Story: The Place of Personal Responsibility

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

“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 rule over it.” Genesis 4:7

For me, one of the most beautiful things about reading the bible is how the Holy Spirit re-interprets segments: Stories, Chapter or verses, the ones I assumed to be well understood, in completely new ways. Re-examining the early chapters of Genesis, for example, feels like poetic instructions about the place of personal responsibility in success or failure.

The story of Cain in Genesis 4 presents an example of such instruction. The background story is famous: the first siblings, Abel is a shepherd & Cain is a farmer. Both offer of the produce of their works to God and while the bible gives a brief description of Abel’s sacrifice being of the good quality, it does not clearly state initially that there was anything wrong with Cain’s sacrifice. God rejects Cain’s sacrifice and favor’s that of Abel which gets Cain angry. And then the lessons start:

First, despite rejecting his offering, God visits Cain – not Abel (at least as far as we are told). This was an indication that God cared about Cain - probably more than He cared about Abel, and the continued protection Cain received from God even after killing his brother is evidence of this. And then God says something powerful to Cain – If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?. God’s acceptance was not about who He preferred; it was about what Cain did. God’s acceptance was and is not based on situation or circumstance but based on our actions – the way we respond to those circumstances.

To draw a parallel, Christ in Matthew 25 vs. 14 – 29, describes an unprofitable servant in the parable of talents. The unprofitable servant – who received one Talent, refused to acknowledge his responsibility but focused on the perceived unfairness of the situation and his master. The second servant who received two talents serves as a contrast to the unprofitable servant. While he may have had reasons to be unproductive and unprofitable: he received considerably less talents than the first servant who got five talents, and had the same ‘hard’ master – in the words of the unprofitable servant, he chose to trade his talent and deliver results. He could not come up with results as grand as the first servant, because he had not been given as many talents to generate those results. But he made the best of his circumstance and delivered as well as he could. He did what was good, and he was accepted as well as rewarded. Interestingly, his reward was the same as the one who delivered 5 talents. The test was not about the talents, it was using the time they had to do the best they could.

This can be instructive for us today, many of us have a list of the things we wish we had – those things that, if we had, we would become more productive in our personal lives and for the kingdom (on earth). The lesson here is, everyone can be accepted and rewarded – regardless of our circumstances but based on our actions.

One more lesson….

It says a lot about the attitude of Cain, that while he was upset that his sacrifice was rejected by God, the same God visits him and he says not a word, nor does he even bother to listen to what God has to say. Cain never really cared about the acceptance or rejection from God, he only wanted to be better than his brother. Envy was what drove him to anger and not the love of God. Therefore, the second part of God’s warning is so instructive:

“But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it”

Living irresponsibly, to be driven and to act under the wrong motivation – obvious sin or no, eventually leads us to being dominated by sin. What drives you matters as much as what you do. What drives you, eventually determines what you do.

Tips to live a profitable Life (not exhaustive):

  1. Matthew 6:33 Seek God. Drop envy, every man’s journey is different. I Timothy 6 v. 6 – 10, our desires, not our circumstances are the biggest determinants of whether we become slaves to sin or not.

  2. Whatever you have is enough to be productive with. 2 Kings 4 vs. 1 – 7. No one has nothing. Nothing has no value. If you have anything, energy and time, that is of value to someone else, then you have something. Start small, build up.

  3. Matthew 7:7 Speak up and seek advice. One of the sad things about Cain’s story is that he said nothing to God until it was too late. Remember, God does not respond to our tears, He responds to our requests backed by faith. Speaking to God, knowing that He hears makes a difference.

  4. Be diligent. The instruction to do good has two parts, we have focused on the good but there is also the truth that we must ‘do’ to get a reward.

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) from Pexels

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