Cain and Abel

by Liz Snell

Why did God reject Cain’s sacrifice? We don’t know for sure. Hebrews says Abel gave a better sacrifice “by faith”, hinting at Cain’s internal posture as at least part of the problem. We aren’t given many details of the sacrifice, but we see Cain’s response to God’s correction, and that tells us a lot about his character. He is angry and resentful towards God for not accepting his sacrifice. God challenges Cain’s attitude: “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.”

Rather than listen to God’s counsel, Cain lures his brother into the field and kills him. Abel’s blood “cries out” to God from the ground. Cain is cursed by the source of his living, the good creation soiled with the first blood spilled in violence. Cain is alienated from God, his human family, and the earth.

We can get too psychological about sin and think of it just as bad habits, engrained neural pathways, addictions. This is true in one sense; there’s much scientific research around the difficulties of breaking negative patterns of behaviour. But we may forget that sin is also a personal force, that is, with personality behind it. Satan desires to have us and knows what works on us. He carries his Mary Poppins bag of tricks and sets up camp outside our door, sliding pamphlets under the crack and whispering through the keyhole. We sidle closer and listen, saying, “It’ll be safe; I won’t actually open the door.”

But Satan is no Mary Poppins. I think of the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings. In the Mines of Moria, this ancient evil surfaced. It desired to have and destroy the Fellowship of the Ring. They didn’t wait around to see what it had to say. Even Gandalf knew he didn’t want to sit down for a chat. They ran right out the other door.

We’ve opened the door to sin over and over again. Our sin, like Cain’s, leads to alienation from God, from others, and from creation. Our deeds don’t disappear but cry out against us. But God offers us a way out.

The ground became a curse to Cain when it received Abel’s blood. But when Jesus’ blood soaked into the earth at the foot of the cross, it brought us restoration and healing. Jesus, willingly murdered, bearing the ancient curse on Himself, reversed our alienation and brought us close to God. The Lamb who was slain, like Abel’s sacrifice, is acceptable to God.

In Revelation Jesus speaks to the church in Philadelphia:

“These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

God promised King David a descendant who would reign forever. Jesus, the foretold Messiah, is David’s key and has “opened wide our heavenly home,” in the words of the Advent hymn. He is the door we can walk through free of sin. We can’t open the door on sin and expect to defeat it ourselves. We have little strength, and God knows this. He doesn’t ask us to fight alone but has defeated sin on our behalf. If we have faith in Jesus, we can choose to walk across the room to the door He has opened, and go free.