Some time ago, following a lesson about Lot’s wife, I got a letter from a student who was outraged about the hypocrisy of the believers in the Bible. We had a long discussion about how believers in the Bible, that claim to believe in Love and Compassion, judge others so easily without any compassion at all, as though they were the Inquisition aiming to condemn people and find the most horrendous way to punish them, all in the name of Love.
I could not disagree with her. I had to admit that I, too, see great hypocrisy among believers. And it pains me that judgement is more prevalent than compassion. So I decided to bring her letter here, as is, uncensored. I think we can all learn from it.
This is a story the Bible tells about a man who starts his life toiling in the fields as a farmer and ends up building a city. He calls this city after his son, and then he starts a dynasty that helps shaping human civilisation.
What an inspiring story it can be, what an inspiration it is for anyone that is facing a major life change, to anyone who mourns what they are leaving behind, and cannot see the opportunities ahead.
Only that this story has a catch. To start his transition into the position of power, the man must first get punished for a murder. But not just of anyone. He first has to kill his own little brother.
In our previous post we discussed Genesis 4:17. We saw that Cain built a city and called it after his son, Chanoch (Enoch). But that was not the end of Cain’s dynasty. His descendants were instrumental to the evolution of human society and culture. Not bad for a person who, without the punishment for killing his brother, would have remained working the soil for the rest of his life. The question we must never forget to ask ourselves when we read the Bible is why is it telling us this story. In other words, what can we learn from it, and how it is relevant to us?
Verses 18-22 are mostly a list of births. So instead of analysing it word by word, as we normally do, I will draw it as a chart.
In Gen 4:16-17 Cain’s trial is over. He is leaving God a free man, finds a place to settle, have a son and builds a city. But what about God’s punishment? Wasn’t Cain destined to be a wanderer, a nomad forever? How can a wanderer settle and build a city? Can he defy God?
In Gen 4:15 God accepts Cain’s concern for his own safety. He provides Cain with a sign, a protection no other man has ever received. This sign not only voids Cain’s ‘punishment’, it also ensures that Cain’s future would turn out to be better than the farming life he was leaving behind.
In Gen 4:14 Cain, not accepting the consequences of his action, continues to plead for leniency. This, of course, supports our understanding that in verse 13 he was complaining about his punishment, not admitting guilt. But more than that, this verse teaches us that at times of change, as bleak as our future life may seem, end of one path presents us with new opportunities, often better than those we are leaving behind.
In Genesis 4:12-13 God continues to elaborate on the consequences of Cain ’s action. This verse makes us wonder, again, if a punishment was handed by God, or is God elaborating on the consequences as a matter of cause and effect?
Cain follows with an ambiguous defence statement, which can be interpreted either as an admission of guilt, or the exact opposite.
Clearly, we cannot attribute human feelings, like anger or even love, to God. The Bible, written for people, uses the words of human emotions to describe God, knowing well that it is only for the sake of our limited human understanding. But under this limitation, was it out of anger that God confronted Cain in Genesis 4: 10 and 11? Does the text tell us who punishes Cain?
Verse 9 is a conversation between God and Cain. God asks Cain about the whereabouts of his brother, Abel. Cain responds that he does not know. But what is the conversation really about? Why does God need to ask, doesn’t he know? Why is Cain lying? Doesn’t he know that God knows?