"The Unraveling" - Plagues & Justice Pt. 2
In our previous post we looked at the idea that things are not how they are meant to be. We live in a world full of disease and injustice, and that's nothing new, but it doesn't mean that was how the world was intended to be.
In the garden in Genesis 3, humans chose their own way over God's way and without God in our lives, things unravel pretty fast.
"...without God in our lives, things unravel pretty fast."
Genesis 4-11 becomes a whirlwind of selfish ambition, sin, human pride, murder, lust, etc...(Seriously, if you're a middle or high school student reading this and you want permission to read an action packed and inappropriate soap opera of human drama, go ahead and read the book of Genesis - and your parents can't yell at you for doing it!)
But let's hone in on Genesis chapter 4. Adam & Eve have two sons - in fact, some commentators think that they're twins. Cain and Abel - you've probably heard of them. Two boys the same age - what could go wrong? For those of you who have ever witnessed or participated in sibling rivalry, you know just how much could go wrong.
The Bible paints Cain and Abel as two very different people. Cain, the older son, is a farmer, like his father Adam. Abel was a shepherd who "kept flocks" (Gn. 4:2). Now, understand that their occupations are core and vital to who they are. So hear what happens when they bring an offering to God...
"...in the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD . But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was angry, and his face was downcast." (Gn. 4:3-5)
Why did God accept what one son brought but not the other? Have you ever been there? Where a parent seems to favor your sibling over you? Hopefully it never happens that way, but sometimes it does. Or how about a boss at work seemingly showing favoritism to one employee over the others?
Why does it seem like God favors Abel over Cain?
The answer is: we don't know.
I'm sorry if that seems like a buzzkill, but we actually aren't sure. But we can draw a few conclusions from the story that apply to the way we see justice and injustice playing out in our world today...
We live in a world where some people "succeed" while others seemingly don't. In this case one idea as to why Cain is rejected would have to do with God wanting to see how he would react in the face of failure. How do you react when things don't go your way? Cain reacted with anger and by "taking" the life of his brother - as if it were his to take! We see this pattern repeating again and again in the book of Genesis - people taking instead of giving - a sure sign that we are not in step with God's heart in the world.
Another idea about the Cain and Abel story is that it is representative of two classes of people in the ancient world - the agrarian (farmers) world, and the world of raising livestock. This is an old, old way of showing that God favors one group over another.
And when we zoom out and fast forward to today, the groups and the issues may have changed, but it is still true that we humans divide ourselves based upon gender, ethnicity, political party, school, sports, economic status, and in many other ways. And the goal is not to eliminate those differences and create some make-believe paradise where we all get along and are all the same. The goal is for us to honor, respect, and love each other in our rich diversity.
"The goal is for us to honor, respect, and love each other in our rich diversity."
But too often we grow jealous of other's success. We fall prey to the false idea that someone else's success means there is less left over for me. We err when we think from a vantage point of deficit rather than a mindset of plenty. 30+ years of following Jesus has taught me that there is enough blessing and goodness to go around for everyone in the world.
Today we feel and see the outcry of the oppressed. Peaceful demonstrations that call for real change to live in a world where people of all ethnic backgrounds can have truly equal rights and opportunities is 100% necessary and needed. But we must fight in the way of MLK Jr. - in ways that demand and bring real change. The Cain and Abel story ought to teach us that the temptation to kill each other over jealousy of success is an old temptation and has been around for a long, long time. The solution is actually in the text itself and is a precursor to Jesus and MLK...
"Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry?' Why is your face downcast? 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." (Gn. 4:6-7)
Did you notice what God does? He reaches out a hand to each of us - and invites us into life again. No matter where we are - however we see ourselves and the world around us - we have an opportunity to "do what is right." Because the temptation to sin against whoever we've deemed the "other" is very real. God is offering you a way out of falling prey to that temptation - in other words - you don't have to kill your brother! There is another way. Don't allow sin to master you - rather, you must find a way to master sin. Easier said than done! But remember...
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13)
We'll continue to explore how injustice arises in the Bible and in our world today, but for today I would pray you'd be able to find a God-inspired way out of the temptation to hate others in a world that finds it so easy.