“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’” – Genesis 4:8-10
The word “righteous” means “harmony”. It is foremost harmony with God’s ways. It is walking in His path and includes an element of social harmony. So, when Scripture calls us to be righteous, it is a communal command. It is telling us to steward who we are not just for our own best interest but also because of the way it influences the world around us.
Like so many of us, Cain does not see his brother as an ally in seeking harmony. He does not seek to love Abel as himself. Rather he sees Abel as an obstacle to his own internal harmony, his own comfort. Rather than seek harmony through seeking what is best for Abel, he seeks harmony by eliminating comparison. Instead of taking ownership of his own actions (as offered by God in verse 7), he looks for a scapegoat.
We don’t have to murder in order to retaliate. But any retaliation born of offense will result in death – at a minimum the death of godly social harmony. Offense is the tool of sin. When we take offense at others, we are casting blame, just as Cain cast blame. When we act on blame out of a sense of being offended, we are being mastered by sin, and it leads to death.
When we encounter emotional pain, we sometimes think that we can shed it by attacking others. This is Cain’s approach. If I make others hurt, I will hurt less. The reality is the opposite. It is a violation of social harmony.
We cannot make choices for others, but our choices do affect others. And we can, and should, take responsibility to serve others. As the New Testament makes clear, righteousness looks like a well-functioning body, where each body part does what it does best, and Jesus is the head. This cannot happen when we live with offense, hold on to bitterness, and operate in blame.
His primary command is to seek the welfare of others the same way we seek it for ourselves. In setting aside self, we find ourselves. The alternative is sin, and death. In demanding our own way, we lose ourselves. In letting go of our flesh and participating in God’s community, we find the truest version of ourselves.
The story of Cain and Abel is a classic narrative rich with insights and invitation. This is part three in a five-part devotional series from Yellow Balloons that explores the journey of Cain (and Abel) as he struggles to hear and perceive the ways of God. All along the way, the Lord stays near to Cain and offers us hope for redemption, no matter how great our sin.