11 December 2020

Good and Evil, part 2

In the beginning, there were two gardeners, "the man" and "the woman." They lived in harmony with nature and walked together with God. They were naked and unashamed. They were given a choice, they could live like this forever and eat of the Tree of Life, or they could take control of their own lives and learn the lessons of Good and Evil the hard way (Genesis 2-3). They made their choice, lost their innocence, and became Adam ("Humanity") and Eve ("Life").

Adam and Eve had three sons, Cain, Abel, and Seth. Cain was the first farmer. He worked the fields and grew an orchard. Orchards do not yield good fruit their first year, and some take many years before they start growing good fruit. This is why Cain brought his offering "in the course of time" (4:3). Abel was a shepherd. He tended livestock and gave his offering of fats from the firstborn of his flock to God. God favored Abel's offering, but not Cain's (4:4).

Genesis does not tell us why God did not favor Cain's offering. Some might speculate that it is because it was fruit and not lamb, but God accepts offerings of what a person can make. God does not distinguish between offerings of grain, lamb, or money. Even the poor, who have nothing, may give an offering of pigeons (which they can catch right outside the Temple); in their case, God himself provides the offering.

Abel gave an offering of the firstborn of his flock. That is an act of trust that there will be more. Cain gave "some fruit," not necessarily the first fruits. Fruit does not ripen on a tree all at once. The first fruit to ripen is what you know you will get from the tree. Afterwards, the rest may be taken by insects, birds, frost, or drought, or it may even simply rot on the branch for seemingly no reason at all. Giving of the first you receive is an act of trust that God will provide.

What were Cain and Abel's motives for choosing their professions? Cain grew crops, perhaps trying to recreate the garden his parents had lost. But a farm is not a garden. Cain held on to what was lost to time, what God had declared should be lost. Abel chose to do something new, he became the first shepherd. His parents had been led to destruction by the will of an animal and so Abel became a leader of the animals. Abel took God's words to heart while Cain sought to undo them.

God levels with Cain, something generations of mankind wish that God would do, he did for Cain. God tells him to do what is right and he will prosper, but if he does the evil that he is thinking, it will consume him (4:6-7).

Cain did choose evil and murdered his brother, then lied about it to God. God tells Cain that his brother's blood cries out from the ground, but God chooses correction over vengeance. God tells Cain that the ground will no longer yield crops for him. He will live the life of a nomad, a restless wanderer. Where Cain once refused to trust God, now he must, for his crime will be known. God marks Cain for his protection, so that none will harm him (4:10-16). So the fist farmer becomes the first nomad.

To carry the metaphor forward, this is why we do not harm or hinder nomadic people, but offer them hospitality (ie. the story of Abraham), because they are under God's protection. This is also why we do not take the life of the wicked, because they are God's to deal with.

When we are wronged, or when we see injustice from far away, it is easy to cry our for vengeance, it is much more difficult to say, "May God deal with you, I forgive. I will let go of my anger. I will not seek vengeance." It is harder still to give hospitality, even in the smallest degree, to those who have done evil. Everyone knows Cain deserves death, his life for the one he took; it would be justice. God expects more.

The fate of the person who takes vengeance is noted in this same story. Lamech, descendant of Cain, does exactly that, and declares that if Cain is avenged seven times, that his lot should be seventy-seven times (4:23-24). Lamech may be calling for greater protection from God, but so too is he admitting that his guilt for taking vengeance is much greater that the guilt he punished. If Cain is cursed, then Lamech so much more so. That is the price of vengeance.

After all of this, Adam and Eve have a third son, Seth. Seth then has a son named Enosh, and because of this blessing, people begin to proclaim the name of God (4:25-26). People do not come to God because of evil or out of hatred, these things drive a wedge between them and God and lead them to destruction. Just like God warned Cain, giving in to evil desires cause them to possess you. But God also provides hope and preserves life so that it may be fulfilled. God did not lead Cain to destruction; God protected him and his family. God provided for Cain and guided him the rest of his days. But the one that did good, Cain's brother Seth, God rewarded his goodness and he brought many people back to the ways of God, perhaps even Cain.

When faced with a choice, choose life, choose kindness. You may just lead someone back to God.

Peace be with you.

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