BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first of a two-part blog by John Henderson. John Henderson first posted this article at the Association of Biblical Counselors site. The BCC is re-posting it with permission of John and the ABC. You can also read the original post here.
The Life of Cain
“Then the Lord said to Cain…” (Genesis 4:6a).
The Scriptures provides a wide range of case material packed with truth and meaning for counseling ministry. The story of Cain offers a prime example (Genesis 4:1-16).
While we don’t have access to the details of Cain’s childhood, we can probably learn a few things from what Scripture teaches. It’s probably safe to assume his home life was a mix of good, bad, and difficult. His parents were both sinners. They were dependent on the grace of God. Marriage started off well for Adam and Eve, but it took a rough turn in the Garden of Eden. Life with God started beautifully. Then it went wrong. Sin twisted, fractured, and broke everything. Cain’s parents probably wrestled with guilt, regret, frustration, exhaustion, fears about death, and a host of other troubles.
After sin entered the world, day-to-day work filled with toil. There was value and meaning in his work, but Adam had to agonize for it. Bearing children was painful for Eve, but also a delight. They battled fatigue. They battled sickness. Their marriage suffered from tensions and conflict, just as God said it would (Genesis 3:16).
God promised help. The Lord had provided atonement and covering through sacrifice (Genesis 3:21). He promised a Seed to come who would crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Even though pain and toil could be found in their home, there was also hope. There was sin and repentance—moments of alienation followed by periods of reconciliation. Cain and his brother Abel grew up in this environment, an environment basically familiar to each of us.
At some point Cain focused on working the land. His brother focused on working the animals. One vocation was no better than the other. Both men chose good and honest labor. God strengthened their hands and blessed their work. Somewhere along the way Cain and his brother learned how to bring sacrifice before the Lord in order to worship and enjoy Him.
The Scripture tells of a day when these brothers brought their sacrifices to the Lord (Genesis 4:3-5). God regarded the sacrifice of Abel, but God did not regard the sacrifice of Cain. In other words, the manner in which Cain brought his sacrifice was unacceptable to God—he approached without faith or humility or thanksgiving in the Lord. The faith and humility by which his little brother drew near was acceptable to God. “So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell” (Genesis 3:5).
I think Cain felt a bit humiliated—outplayed, in his mind, by his “favored” little brother. He probably stewed in anger and bitterness. Rather than ask God for help, he likely thought about ways to even the score. The Lord invited Cain into conversation and offered him counsel. The Lord provided a way of restoration and warned Cain of sin’s danger. Cain didn’t care. Cain didn’t heed. In fact, Cain lured his brother into the field and murdered him.
A Conversation with God
Once more God drew near to Cain and started a conversation. He invited Cain to confess and seek help. Rather than face the situation, Cain lied. Rather than repent of his sin, Cain tried to conceal it. Of course, the Lord confronted his hostility and lack of care. After all, God wasn’t asking questions to which He didn’t already know the answers.
The consequences came. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Genesis 4:11) When Adam sinned, the ground was cursed. In Cain’s case, he was cursed from the ground. Even with toil and effort, Cain’s farming would no longer yield fruit. This meant he would wander and find food in the wild. Like a cow grazing from pasture to pasture, Cain would need to keep moving to find food.
The consequences upset Cain. “My punishment is too great to bear!” he cried out. He didn’t say, “My sin is too great to bear.” Nor did he say, “Father, please forgive me, I have offended you and treated my brother with evil!” At no point in the conversation will Cain grieve his iniquity and seek forgiveness. No, he’s much more concerned with preserving his physical life. “Whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:14) The worry seems especially ironic and inappropriate since he just murdered his brother.
Incredibly, God shows mercy. Rather than turn Cain into a pile of ashes, He actually hears his concern. God placed a sign on Cain for his protection. Anyone who found Cain would know not to harm him. The story draws to a close with Cain leaving the presence of the Lord in order to settle toward the east.
The story of Cain provides a clear, beautiful, and tragic example of counsel being graciously offered by the Lord God, and stubbornly refused by a man. We can see God graciously pursuing a hardened sinner. We get to listen over their shoulders and learn from their interaction. I think we should be amazed by the conversation.
The Rest of the Story
We invite you to return tomorrow as we explore The Location and Nature of Our Problem.