‘November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.’
by Malcolm Guite
‘They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.’ Romans 1:25
‘At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.’ Genesis 4:26b
Read: Genesis 4: 1-26
The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth, script lines, lines to live repeatedly without thinking by. Life gives us this script and we learn these lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through our lungs, drawing them into our veins, running them straight to our heart. And our heart beats in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. We’ve learned the lines by heart, the human family-lines, lines running back through time, lines first spoken in a garden long ago.
Cain, the first born child of all human beings is the first to take another’s life. Cain’s jealousy, born of the fear that he wasn’t enough, drives him to rip his competition down, down into the earth. And the earth for the first time soaks up the blood of a human being.
And Cain, he could not have known how vast the engulfing flood of death and murder and violence would be; war, retaliation, slavery, domination. Yes humankind, we learned the lines by heart, thoroughly, diligently, and now war, death and carelessness has become an all too familiar backdrop to our existence, a state of the art industry, a reality pervading every news bulletin.
And leaving reality behind altogether we allow the visage of killing into our living rooms and bedrooms, fantasies flashing back at us on screens, drawing us into violent acts on video games, making killing a game, an aimless pastime, a hobby. A hobby slowly numbing us, naming us empty, empty of empathy for the human forms we kill, again and again and again.
But Cain’s violence did not begin with him, it ended with his act of murder, but it began years before at the foot of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
It began when the first human beings, his parents, replaced God on the throne of their hearts with their own desires. Cain committed the first murder but Adam and Eve had let death in the door (Romans 5:12) . It was not about the fruit of that tree, it was about the choosing of anything other than God’s truth and enthroning anything other than Him in our hearts.
‘They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.’ Romans 1:25
Cain’s parents had planted the seeds of his destruction long before Abel lost his life to them. Cain was merely reciting lines, lines he knew by heart, by broken heart. From that hissing whispering moment the will of all human beings was broken, including Cain.
The battle now for all humanity is not just to choose to be good, but to choose against the darkness that has a foot in the door of every human heart.
To choose the light, the only light that can free our hearts into wholeness; the light of loving God. Cain failed to make this choice and out of the dark corners of his apathetic heart festered a half hearted acknowledgement of God devoid of wholehearted devotion, a passive response to God’s presence. Cain had the personal presence of YHWH, His voice right there with him by his side. But rather than giving God his very best and being fulfilled and refreshed by his relationship with God, Cain is double minded and half hearted, giving some but not his all, not his whole heart. And the part he kept back, the part of any heart not wholly God’s is the part where darkness set up camp and dwelt, breeding contempt, birthing death.
The problem was not that Cain did not give God a sacrifice that God liked. It was never about the sacrifice (just as it was never about the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). It was always about the state of the heart that was giving it. Is it begrudging, careless, going through the motions, or is it love? Wholehearted love, the love God has for us. God, who gave His all for us longs for us to return His love in kind, and from this place of love in God find strength and renewed humanity to love all others the same.
Like Eve and then Adam, Cain did not keep God on the throne of his heart, as Lord of His life. His heart, first formed to be fully filled only by the love of God, shoves God out, and into the empty void rushes resentment, rage, envy and… well our actions are the fruit of our core. Cain murdered Abel in his heart long before the earth soaked up Abel’s blood.
And God, despite Cain’s indifference for Him, fought for Cain, fighting for his heart, fighting with his heart. Warning him like a concerned father. I see you Cain, your feelings, your face, but you can do better, you can be your best self, that is all I want for you, to be fully filled and fulfilled in my love. Choose life!
‘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 rule over it.’ (Genesis 4: 6-7)
And sin, it lies in that dark corner ready to pounce, ready to drag Cain down and devour him, if he opens the door. We think we are in control when we reject God’s words and choose our wilful ways, but actually we are being devoured, torn apart from the inside out. True freedom is only found in loving God. Everything else is a bondage to emptiness, to devouring darkness.
YHWH fought for Cain, as He fights for us. He believed in Cain’s (and our) ability to choose and longs for us to choose Him, to choose wholeness.
He named it for Cain, Cain’s two trees, the two paths, life and death, light and dark. Choose life Cain! Choose Life. He pleaded. But Cain had made up his mind and set his heart towards the darkness.
‘Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.’ (Genesis 4:8)
And for the first time in all created time, the earth from which we are formed soaks up the blood spilt from our veins. And the first in a great tidal wave of violence enters human experience; death camps, firing squads, gang warfare, knife crime, genocide, homicide, suicide, gas chambers, the holocaust. It began with Cain, and ended nowhere.
We use our God-given human creativity to design new ways to kill our brothers, and the earth once lovingly formed and fashioned into us now soaks in our blood, swallowing us whole. Just as it swallowed Abel that first day.
But God’s heart full of love and justice has not done with Cain yet. After the dust has settled over Abels blood, God comes looking for Cain.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Genesis 4:9
In knowing God, did Cain ever truly know Him? Did he really believe God didn’t know and didn’t see and didn’t hear his brother’s cries? But there has always been that small part of Cains heart, the half hearted, double minded part, the part that never gave itself fully to God, that part has always been an atheist, never knowing God, blind to Him while standing in His presence.
God knew. Just as He knew when He had asked Cain’s parents in the garden “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) He now asks the same of Cain, “Where is your brother?”. One chance to name, one chance to own and repent. In asking Cain “Where is your brother” He was asking Cain, “Where are you?”.
And the answer should have been “Lost”, just as it should have been with his parents all those years before, “Lost in the dark of sin and death”. That was the answer that could have led to acknowledgement, to repentance, to life. Because there’s no way to be found until you name that you are lost, lost in the dark of the midnight of your soul. We never reach for the light until we know we are in darkness.
But Cain, like his parents, deflects and avoids and with callous insolence shrugs “Am I my brother’s keeper?”.
‘Am I my brothers Keeper?’ We were all created to keep each other; to keep God in our hearts so we can keep our emotions in check, keep our anger managed, keep our violence at bay.
Any heart not living alive in the breath of God within them will be increasingly numb to the value of human life.
Murder is not the only way to bring death into this world: callous apathy and shrugging avoidance is another way. Letting the love and care of our ‘brother’ (all human beings) be somebody else’s business, somebody else’s problem. Calloused hearts usher death into the world in a thousand subtle ways: walking past, labelling, rejecting, dehumanising, succumbing to prejudice, redefining human beings into categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
We know our lines by heart, script lines, lines to live repeatedly without thinking by. And our hearts beat in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. We’ve learned the lines by heart, the human family-lines, lines running back through time, lines first spoken in a garden long ago.
The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.’ Genesis 4:10-11
And the darkness falls like a storm, like drenching rain thundering black, the dark of emptiness; a heart emptied of God, empty of love.
One generation. It took just one generation after the fall for humankind to move from disobedience to violence.
Hearts once emptied of the love of God find all kinds of darkness rushing into the void. And now all human generations roll and spin and writhe with dark and death. Brokenness begets brokenness, darkness begets darkness in a never ending spiral of destruction.
More than his brother Abel is destroyed by Cain’s violence. His actions have real consequences on the physical, emotional and spiritual ecosystem of his whole existence. Everything is broken now. He finds himself at odds with every aspect of his human life.
At odds with his vocation; ‘‘Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you’. (Genesis 4:11)
At Odds with himself, his very soul; ‘You will be a restless wanderer on the earth’
At odds with his spiritual nature and with God; ‘Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence’ (Genesis 4:14)
And at odds with his fellow human beings; ‘and whoever finds me will kill me’. (Genesis 4:14)
There is no part of Cain’s life that is not destroyed by his actions that day.
But God, He doesn’t change when we become less that who we are. He does not stop extending grace to Cain even after all Cain’s done.
‘Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’
But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden’. Genesis 4:13-16
And Cain now bears the mark of a marked man, marked not by his own violence as he perhaps deserves but marked by Grace, marked by the grace of a God of second chances, of love and justice beating in one heart.
And Cain, he wanders east of Eden to a land called ‘Nod’, which means ‘wandering’, a land we all dwell in when we don’t dwell with God, wandering around in the darkness, far from the garden with God.
In grace God protects Cain from death but he cannot protect Cain’s future generations from the impact of his actions on his family line.
They had many gifts and talents (Genesis 4:20-21) raising livestock, playing stringed instruments and pipes, forging tools from bronze and iron but their hearts, being emptied of God could not humanise them. All the knowledge, talents, technology and progress in the world cannot restore humanity or give us a moral compass. Only God’s love, God himself at the core of the beating heart of humanity can do that. Cain’s family line had become God-less; less and less of the image of God within them.
Within just five generations Lamech, Cain’s descendant is boasting “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.’ (Genesis 4:23-24)
Life gives us a script and we learn the lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through our lungs, drawing them into our veins, running them straight to our heart. Lamech’s heart was beating in time to the lines laid out by Cain. He knew the lines by heart.
And all our human family lines would have been beating in time with them, but for the intervention of grace.
The very next lines after Lamech’s boast are lines less like a script and more like a song, a song with lines of grace about family lines begun anew.
God, despite everything is still with Adam and Eve. A new son is give to them, and then a grandson. And there is then this one small line, the line that underlines the new-found strength of a new family line;
‘At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord’ (Genesis 4:26).
They reached for God, and He reached back. And a new family line is recorded in time.
And this is not just the story of a new family line, but is also the story of a renewed beginning, a renewed creation story. Here in Genesis chapter five we find the first of several renewed creation stories. Using phrases of the first creation story, a renewed creation story is written down in time, a new beginning, a new family tree for the human race with God as the creator-Father forming them in His own image, blessing them, and naming them human once more.
‘This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.’ Genesis 5:1-3
But Cain, his name is conspicuously absent, no longer there in the renewed genealogy of Adam and Eve (Genesis 5). While in five generations of Cain’s family line a descendant, Lamech is boasting of murder, in six generations of Adam’s renewed family line Enoch ‘walks faithfully with God’ so closely that he does not see death at all, but God takes him away (Genesis 5:24). One family line follows history’s footsteps into death, and the other follows a renewed humanity’s footsteps into life.
Seth’s family line that began ‘to call on the name of the Lord’ became a line of humanity that walked with God and in Hebrews 1:5-7 we find mention of them there, Enoch and Noah, heading up a great lineage of the faithful, a family tree not built on lines of flesh and blood but on the song lines of faith and obedience. The new human genealogy stretching back to Abel and to Adam, producing heirs of the promise.
And in the book of Luke we find Jesus own genealogy again drawing a straight line from Jesus “the Son of Joseph” to Adam “the son of God” with mention of both Noah and Enoch among many others (Luke 3:36-38). Jesus became an heir of Adam’s renewed family line, a renewed human family line where faith was an inheritance and walking with God the lines laid down.
And Cain’s name, his clever family line with all their knowledge, gifts and talents… and violence, is wiped out of the pages of history with the flood.
It is not our gifts, knowledge and talents that makes us fully human, but our calling on the name of the Lord, walking in faithfulness with God.
Humanity lived with God is fully human, humanity without Him is a brittle shell with an empty centre. Because God is an essential part of the human ecosystem, as essential as the air we breath and the blood which courses through our veins; Our humanity warps and withers without Him.
Nine generations after Seth, Noah is born. Three times three generations later. His name, meaning ‘comfort or rest’, is explained by his father as bringing them comfort against the curse brought on the ground by God in the wake of Cain’s actions (Genesis 5:29).
The same phrase used to describe Enoch’s close relationship with God is also later used to describe Noah’s ‘he walked faithfully with God’ (Genesis 6:9).
And the line of humans still living in the image of God within them survives, though hanging only by the thread of this one family, one man, Noah. And on the strength of Noahs heart, which still calls on the name of the Lord and walks faithfully with God, keeping Him on the throne of his heart, the human race is saved, not from God but from themselves.
A third renewed creation story is about to take place, another renewed beginning, where love and justice collide once more in time.
Abel’s death was the first death, it was the beginning, not just of a tidal wave of human homicide, but the beginning of God’s own long road to death Himself. The nails that pierced Jesus hands were wrought first in Cain’s own callous heart, unleashing and conditioning countless generations of murders since… until this one day on a dusty hill just outside Jerusalem humankind commits the worst homicide of all; The murder of God himself.
But in this, our most horrific crime yet, the final new creation is born. One death that does not end life, but begins it. New. For all humankind, for all time past and all time to come.
This final and complete new creation offers us a new beginning, new footprints to follow, new lines to live. Not lines of a script blindly repeating the past, but lines of a melody breathing new life; lines of a lingering ancient song, a song half remembered but almost forgotten, a song first breathed over us in a garden long ago.
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