The Big Idea, the next installment of Abram and Sarai’s story, will come out tomorrow, but I’m taking a detour today and revisiting Cain. If you haven’t read my retelling of his story, you can see it here:
Cain & Abel, Part 1: The Sacrifice
Cain & Abel, Part 2: The Killing
I also encourage you to read the original account in Genesis 4.
DEGREES OF SEPARATION
They say hindsight is 20/20.
I loved my brother Abel. We played together when we were kids, but we liked different things. I chose to farm, like my father, Adam, getting my hands in the dirt. A good harvest was my victory over the cursed earth, proof of conquest by the sweat of my brow.
Abel, he loved animals, sheep especially. He was moved by their trusting innocence — or what I would call naivete. They’d follow him anywhere. The fact that they didn’t know what was good for them, that they were completely dependent on him, made him love them even more. They were alway running into trouble, needing a rescue. They made the same mistakes over and over. I never understood how he could love those dumb sheep. We definitely didn’t see the world with the same eyes, but we got along all right.
If you had told me that one day, in the not too distant future, I’d murder my brother in cold blood, I wouldn’t have believed you. Not in my wildest nightmares. But life has a way of taking hairpin turns, and you would never believe what was just around the corner waiting for you.
I can’t really blame anyone but myself. God had warned me. But you know sometimes you hear a thing and you’re not really hearing. For whatever reason it doesn’t register. The warning doesn’t strike the fear in your heart that it should.
God had said, “Sin is crouching at your door, and it wants to have you.” I wasn’t sure what he meant exactly. Quite honestly, I didn’t care. I hadn’t pictured the monster I would become. Now I replay the moment again and again, a single moment that left a deep and indelible stain, like the mark God had placed on my forehead.
From every conceivable angle, I replay the scene. I watch the monster who is me pressing the blade into my brother’s flesh until his blood runs hot over my own flesh. I see my brother’s face, the shadow passing over it when he realizes what I’m about to do. I rewind and see him running towards me from across the field. He is just within arm’s reach. I can choose to embrace him, but instead I pull my knife from its sheath.
It’s those singular moments that can change your life. And it doesn’t seem quite fair because your choices in that moment seem to take on a life of their own. You’re swept up in a wave and don’t even know it until you come crashing down. You look back at the devastation and think, “I did that?”
I’d like to blame it on the heat of the moment, say I didn’t know what I was doing. But there’s no point now in hiding the truth, not even from myself. Not anymore. The truth is, there was always a part of me that knew exactly what I was doing. I had made many conscious choices that led me right up to that place where sin was just on the other side of the door.
Did I choose that destination? Of course not. Funny thing is, though, when I arrived it seemed like a foregone conclusion. At that point, it seemed like I didn’t have any other choice but to swing that door wide open.
I never understood how Abel could take one of his beloved sheep and slit its throat for the sacrifice, how he could look into its innocent, trusting eyes and slaughter it in cold blood. But then I hadn’t yet killed my brother. I suppose we each have our own altar and the things we’re willing to sacrifice.
I realize now, it was never about Abel. I was fighting a different war. My brother was simply collateral damage.