“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.”Romans 7:19-21 (NRSV)
Cain had glowered with hatred and seething jealousy as Abel joyfully received God’s favor, the smoke of his sacrifice rising heavenward in rich plumes, as Cain’s sacrifice sputtered and spit, then finally went out. Later, as Abel had cheerfully gathered his things, preparing to return to the clan’s settlement, the darkness in Cain began to grow.
God’s rejection of Cain and Cain’s response showed a bitterness, and sense of entitlement, already rooted deep into Cain’s heart. He was angry that God’s favor and acceptance, which Cain felt should have been given to him, went to “weak, frail, meaningless, nothing” Abel, instead. Cain felt he deserved much better, and yet here he was, getting the kind of poor treatment and disfavor that he certainly didn’t deserve. He resented God, furious that Abel’s offering was accepted over his own.
Cain also seemed to feel sorry for himself. “How could God do a thing like this? Why would God let this happen to me?” Note God’s grace to Cain, and read His words with tenderness in mind, “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?’” God knew the answers to these questions, but He was giving Cain a chance to process his thoughts and feelings with God, to understand the root of his anger, and maybe even to understand the root of his sense of entitlement.
Cain knew what God meant when He said “if you do well, will you not be accepted, will not your countenance be lifted up?” In other words, “Cain, I love you as much as I love Abel, I’m ready to show you My favor. If you were doing well, wouldn’t you be lifting your face to Me? Wouldn’t I be showing you My favor?” It is not that Cain did not know how to do well. Rather, he did not want to do it. He wanted God’s approval, but he wanted it on his own terms, not on God’s.
It was not enough for Cain to know God loved him as he was. He wanted God to approve him, as he was.
He had no interest in, or intention of, changing.
No, Cain presented himself to God, and to all others, as already worthy of and entitled to all he felt should be his.
God continued: “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” It’s as though God was telling Cain, “Don’t treat jealousy or resentment lightly, don’t accept your sense of envy and entitlement as healthy, don’t think you are justified, as though this is righteous indignation. If you brood over all this, you will find yourself in the grip of a power far greater than you can handle. The pull of that power on you is insidiously intoxicating, it is much stronger than you are giving it credit. Sooner or later, you will say or do something that you did not initially intend to do or say. You will go farther than you ever thought you would go.”
And the truth is, a lurking malice and contempt did grow in Cain. It began as a tendril, curling around Cain’s injured pride. It lengthened, uncoiling enough to embrace Cain’s ambition, his image of himself as special, firstborn, deserving. Like a serpent, writhing and undulating through his soul, it insinuated itself into every shadowed nook and shaded recess of his sense of privilege, until it had grown into a dark monster, filling Cain’s form from the inside out. Finally, only a thin layer of Cain was left, following the contours of his malevolent jealousy and covetousness and loathing within.
He envied Abel receiving God’s favor in such a public way. He was bitter that God had rejected his own sacrifice in such a public way. His whole vision of himself and his destiny had been publicly attacked and wounded. He could not stand to look at Abel or even suffer him to live. Cain ignored God, because he wanted to serve his own interests. He disregarded God’s warning, he refused to repent, he nursed his ravenous abhorrence and sense of his own privilege, until, after a while, he came up with a way to even the score. “Brother, let’s go out into the fields and talk…” There would be no witnesses.
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 Genesis 4:7b (NRSV)