Cain loved the smell of the earth. His father and mother said it was cursed. “Farming was a lot easier back in the day,” his father would say, with that faraway look in his eyes. He said God had given them the job of working the earth, and Cain enjoyed the challenge of coaxing life from the ground, cursed or not. He was proud of his work.
His younger brother Abel had carved a different path. Of all things, he had decided to spend his days tending sheep. The animals didn’t need care, not the way the earth did. They did just fine on their own, but Abel had insisted. He kept his little flock around him like a family.
Cain didn’t really see the point. Unlike crops, animals had no value, except for the occasional skin. His parents said God had shown them how to make clothes from the skins. It was the only time they ever killed animals. Oh, and for the offering. Every so often they would bring God an offering and it was always a slaughtered animal.
Kind of a waste, Cain thought. But they were supposed to remember how God had slaughtered that first animal to clothe his parents. Apparently, before that, they walked around stark naked. His father said he wouldn’t understand, but in those days they saw things differently.
Cain looked up to see his brother at the other end of the field covered with blood. Ah, yes, it was the day for the sacrifice. He never could get used to the smell and mess of the slaughter, all that blood.
How his brother could kill his own lambs, he couldn’t understand. Abel had said something like it was the reason he kept them so well. It made no sense, and Cain didn’t bother asking him to explain.
He had been thinking this time he would offer something different, something better. He didn’t need a reminder of that first sacrifice. He already knew the story. Yada, yada, he’d heard it a hundred times.
It had been a good harvest. Cain surveyed the overflowing baskets, evidence of his struggle and triumph over a cursed earth. Surely this was a worthy offering.
He watched God smile as he received Abel’s offering. But as Cain approached with the best of his harvest, God did not extend his hands. He simply looked at Cain. Was it sadness, pity? Cain didn’t know. His own face was hot, his jaw clenched tight.
“Why are you angry?” God asked him.
Seriously? Wasn’t it obvious? He had brought his gift and God had basically spit in his face.
“And why do you look so dejected?”
Cain fumed. He wasn’t sure which was more infuriating, the rejection or these questions. Could God be that oblivious?
“Cain, you chose this,” God was saying. “If you don’t like it, make a different choice. Maybe you were thinking I should accept you on your terms, that I should change the rules to suit you. That’s not how it works. Don’t think of yourself as powerless, Cain. The ball is in your court. You can do this. You must do it.”
God said something else about sin crouching behind the door, that it wanted him. It reminded him of what his mother had said about the serpent. She still couldn’t talk about it without crying.
And yet, in the heat of the moment, Cain could think only of his own pain. He couldn’t remember, or didn’t want to think about, how he had arrived at this place. He didn’t want to know how he could do things differently. It was easier to believe the problem lay outside himself.
If only God had just accepted his gift. If he had just looked past the stupid rules and given him a pass. If only he hadn’t required an animal sacrifice in the first place. If only his brother hadn’t shown him up. If only his brother had never been born.
As for sin crouching at the door, he’d deal with that when he got there.
He turned on his heel, his back toward God. “Hey, Abel!” he called after his brother. “Meet me in the field.”