Another senseless act of violence. This week it was Las Vegas. However, we've heard the lament before in Newtown, Virginia Tech, University of Texas, Charleston, and so many others. Senseless acts of violence show up in the Scriptures too. The first--Cain killing Abel.
Like oil dipped in water, the problem of Dad Adam and Mother Eve has spread to brothers Cain and Abel, tainting everyone in the process. The garden party of Eden is now a deathtrap and the thorns of the curse are watered by the tears of grief wherever men and women trod.
In Genesis 4:1-16 we read that Cain and Abel are brothers. They both offer a sacrifice to God. Abel offers a firstborn animal and Cain offers part of his harvest. We are then told that God looked with favor on Abel's offerings and looked away (did not regard) from Cain's. Cain is incensed, literally. He is burning with anger (very wroth). Instead of humbly dealing with God, Cain uses Abel as a sacrifice because Cain believes God (and perhaps Abel) has sinned against him. Cain tricks Abel and kills him--premeditated, heartless, cruel.
We are not explicitly told why Cain's offering was not regarded by God, but based on 1 John 3, it seems that Cain's heart was far from God. He was going through the motions. He was emptily religious--the sacrifices, which were meant to curb excess and pride, to check the limits of self, changed nothing. God doesn't accept the harvest sacrifice (which was still a sacrifice), because Cain is not willing to humble himself. He is the opposite of the Old Testament prophet's succinct phrase, that we are to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God." Cain would rather act cruelly, love vengeance, pity himself, and live plaintively against God.
Ultimately God counters Cain's assumption that God is a capricious monster. God spares Cain's life. God shows mercy in a way that Cain was unable.
Evil is an action
Often when we talk of violence we talk in a way that takes responsibility away from the perpetrator. What possessed him to do that? What came over him? It's like we assume the person has ejected themselves from the cockpit and something else is in control. And, in some ways, it is right to talk like that, for even in Genesis 4 God says, "Sin is crouching at the door. It's desire is for you." It can definitely seems that our desires and our thoughts choose us.
We are actors and are not passive
When we put ourselves in the passive stance, it almost feels like we are powerless. In some cases mental health plays a significant part, as some people cannot show restraint. However, for the large portion of humans, restraint is possible but just not desired. If I have a murderous thought, well, it's a one way street and the slope is steep. Like Cain, the violence we have seen in many cases is premeditated. The "evil" thought is nurtured. It is given fertilizer. Its roots instead of being pulled up and left to rot, are given nutrients of hate, depravity, and callousness. Personal responsibility for what one is willing and not willing to nurture as far as thoughts, feelings, actions, and outcomes is important.
Sin is crouching at the door. It's desire is for you, but you must master it. You must rule it. You must wrestle it. Govern it. You are not passive in your actions. If you can't rule it, then ask the community to help you. You are not alone. You are not lone. There is a way toward what is right.
Our responsibility for our lives
In Genesis 3 we read that after Adam and Eve disobeyed they hid from God. God comes to them in the garden and asks, "Where are you?"
In Genesis 4 after victim Abel is killed God asks Cain, "Where is your brother?"
With Adam and Eve we see that we are responsible for our own actions. In Genesis 4 with Cain we see that we are responsible for how our life impacts others. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
God sees. God knows. God will hold to account.
For those who need assistance with mental health, yes, we pray and act in a way that gives them the resources they need to lead a healthy, vibrant life. For those who persist in hate, the fruit will grow and be harvested, but like Cain's offering, God will not regard it. He will turn away, for it is odious. For those who want to see life, goodness, and virtue flourish, then we must master it. We must rule and govern. We are not passive victims. We can and should act.
Evil is not a substance. Evil is an action. Good, like evil, must be cultivated.
What action will we take to grow love and life?
Though we are not Adam or Eve, we are gardeners. What will you cultivate in your life? What needs to be uprooted? What is it you do that you know is not healthy, right, or good? Ask the community for help. You are not alone in this garden. Let's live and work together in a way that is acceptable to the Lord.