After the two creation stories, there is the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-24). This story is much shorter than I expected it to be. Given Alice M.'s comment to yesterday's posting, it strikes me as significant that the brother who tends crops kills the brother who is a herder. It seems to foretell how those who settled land ended up (mostly) wiping out more nomadic kinds of societies.
But I find part of the story, as told in the Bible, troubling. Why was the Lord happier with one kind of offering than another? Upon reading this, you can kind of understand why Cain was disappointed and jealous. After working so hard on the land, Cain was upset that the Lord "had no regard" for his offering (Gen 4:5). Still, the wisdom the Lord offers is good advice for us all: work hard, do well, and if others don't fully appreciate what you’ve done, master your disappointment (a rather free paraphrase of Gen 4:7). Also, this passage is now the first mention of "sin" in the Bible: "Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Gen 4:7).
Instead, we all know, Cain gives into it and kills his brother. Sigh.
He is then banished from the land, and now the interpretive notes in my edition of the Bible (the Access Bible, New Revised Standard Version) point out that he goes on to become founder of cities and of culture (Gen 4:17-22). But also, violence continues (Gen 4:23-24).
So, even though the story, as told, is rather brief, it can be interpreted on many levels. Maybe it is better not to read it as a story about individuals, but a story about the complexities of human society as it shifts and changes: how settling the land, and then settling into cities, became the new norm for human society; how we may have lost something beautiful in the process (societies that wandered freely and more peacefully upon the earth without jealously claiming ownership of the land); how we then gained something new (arts, crafts, culture), but how this gain comes at a cost (this more settled life has a dark side: it breeds human violence).
It may also be read as a story of how hard it is for us to handle our difficult emotions well. We long so much for approval and acceptance, but, ironically, it is exactly when we most fear losing them that we are most inclined to behave in the ways that guarantee their loss.
A Spiritual Approach to Difficult Times
6 months ago