The Days of Cain

 

In fourteen hundred ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;

He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;

He used the stars to find his way.

A compass also helped him know

How to find the way to go.

-Columbus Day poem

 

So, here we are. The summer of 2020. And we find, once again, activists without actualities, wandering through a universe circumscribed by themselves. That which stands in their way, whether human or representation, must be removed, cancelled, done away with. Only their likeness must stand.

The statue of Christopher Columbus was removed from Grant Park during the night. Chicago’s Mayor Lightfoot said the likeness was a “public safety issue”. So, to appease the raging horde who had emerged from their cramped safe spaces (perhaps a darkened basement in their parent’s home lit only by the glare of a computer monitor) Lightfoot removed the static and mute reminder of a discoverer who used fixed reference points outside of himself to voyage to a new world.

As we have come to witness in Chicago, Portland and, Seattle, wanderers with no reference point other than their own solipsistic compass create a world of lawlessness. There is nothing new or Progressive about the ways of the lawless wanderer. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked when hearing about the toppled statue, “People will do what they do.” The way of the wanderer is a return to the old world of Cain.

You remember the story of brothers Cain and Abel. Their relationship was removed, cancelled, done away with. The sibling dysfunction began with their mother Eve. After giving birth she declared “I have created a man with the Lord”. Her words go well beyond acknowledging God’s help in the birth of her son. She ascribes to herself equality with God as a source of life. And so, she named her first born Cain (translated in this context: “to create”), imparting to her firstborn the same delusional thinking, the same self-actualization and self-divination, that she and Adam had chosen when they ate from the forbidden tree and were kicked out of the garden for doing so.

(It is interesting to note that Eve named her second son Abel, meaning “breath” or breeze”. Perhaps Eve, after seeing herself in Cain, chose the name to acknowledge that man is ephemeral, transient and, mortal and not equal with God after all.)

Both Cain and Abel worked the land, exerting dominion over it as God had charged in the first chapter of Genesis. Both were aware of God’s presence. Both offer the fruits of their labor to him as a sacrifice. But there is an issue with one of their sacrifices. The issue is not so much the quality of the sacrifice. They both offer yields from God’s good creation. The issue lies beneath the surface.

Abel offers the best cuts from the first born of his flock. Cain offers portions of what’s growing. It cost him nothing to do this. Abel’s sacrifice is a recognition that the growth and flourishing of his flocks were gifts from God. His sacrifice is a recognition that God is God and therefore deserves respect and the best creation has to offer, no matter the cost. Cain’s sacrifice is a recognition that Cain is co-creator with God. He had worked the land and thought of himself as the one who made it grow and flourish. As such, Cain’s sacrifice is an attempt to bribe God into blessing him as caretaker, to make things go well for him.

When his sacrifice is rejected by God, Cain became angry. His face became downcast. Cain felt that he had rights by placing God in debt to him. He did what he felt was required and now God must do what is required and give him his favor. Freedom from anxiety, peace of mind and pleasure were of the highest priority to Cain. He traded some token of produce in order to receive back empathy for his epicurean life.

Cain’s quid pro quo religion – seeking to broker with the god/s for order and harmony in one’s life, would go on to become the religious practice for many in the world, old and new. But religion is mere formality. Doing what is right is more important than sacrifice before God. Doing what is morally and ethically right begins with the acknowledgement of and respect for God as God. So, God gives Cain a choice: do right and be the offering that is accepted or continue his self-divinization; rule over the works of God’s own hands or let the works of his own hands rule over him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4: 6-7

Cain made his choice. He brought Abel to a field and out of jealousy killed him. Perhaps he thought, “I shall have no other gods before me”. But what happens on the field does not stay on the field. Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord. And the just Lord came looking for accountability.

After Adam and Eve made their choice, God asked “where are you?”. Adam answered “I was afraid…” After the murder, Cain was asked: “Where is your brother Abel?”  Cain answered “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain denies culpability. Perhaps he thought, “If I remove the competition the god will have to deal with only me. Besides, I did my due diligence and have nothing to show for it. So there!”. Maybe he said, “People will do what they do”.

Genesis 2:15 tells us that The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Mankind’s vocation was to care for God’s creation, His Temple. That care would include God’s image bearers placed in the temple. Abel did the work of caring for creation and bringing its best back to God. Cain would have none of it. He evaded his responsibility with self-deception and denial. He canceled it. So, God dealt with Cain. Cain was cursed.

The curse God imposed on Adam, Cursed is the ground because of you is similar to but lesser than the curse imposed on Cain: You are cursed from the groundWhen you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. The land and now a man are cursed.

The form of justice to be imposed on Cain could have been a life for a life. Instead, Cain is exiled by God. He is to be a wanderer. But Cain decides to be a whiner and not a repenter.

 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Genesis 4: 13-14

In exile, Cain has a chance to repent and turn back to God. God will look after Cain. God put a mark on Cain so that anyone who came across him would not kill him. The mark of protection, not described in Gen. 4:15, reminds me of the Passover lamb’s blood put on the two doorposts and lintel of the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. Clearly, God is patient and merciful with Cain. He could have canceled Cain from the face of the earth. Yet, God watches over Cain; God does for Cain what Cain should have done for Abel.

But none of that matters to Cain. Cain will watch after Cain. The self-indulgent Cain goes his own way. Instead of wandering he builds a city. He wanted to make a name for himself and become the kingpin of his own domain, his own safe space. Cain’s descendants glory in their barbarism and in possessing women as objects (Gen. 4:19-24). The dysfunction that began in the garden continued in the line of Cain. He is the father of the self-reliant god-like superheroes who control their own destinies with force.

Genesis chapter 4 ends with the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve. Eve has had a change of heart after the tragedy of Cain and Abel: God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him. There is no talk of being a god-like superwoman. And the line of Seth does not go the way of autonomous Cain.

So, here we are. The summer of 2020. And we find, once again, activists without actualities, wandering through a universe circumscribed by themselves. That which stands in their way, whether human or representation, must be removed, canceled and, destroyed. These are the days of Cain.

 

It is easy to rail against the anarchists and their subjectivist view of morality. It is easy to condemn the barbarism and destruction of the wanderers. It is easy to denounce those who kneel to false gods before games. It is easy to deride the Democrat pols who appease and dismiss the angry mobs with “People will do what they do”. But what about the choices we each make to go our own way and to do what we do thereby creating dysfunction and havoc in our relationships? What happens when we cancel relationships by not forgiving? Some may thumb their noses at God under the guise of American Individualism and self-sufficiency. Some may have even offered some token to God (going to church, putting money in the plate, etc.) hoping to receive back the American Dream (a “Made in the U.S.” sticker placed on a cask of Greek Epicureanism). We make relational choices based on our relationship with God. We become what we do with God. Have you become a likeness of Cain?

In addition to the behavior describe above, Cain is impatient, short-tempered and, 

…self-referring.

…demands tokens of assurance, of victory, of winning.

…uses fear mongering to gain and remain in power.

…avoids all risk to obtain security and protectionism.

…seeks to replace the timeless with the temporal.

…obtains identity from tribal sources and denigrates all others

…is self-centered and narcissistic in his demand for self-preservation.

…makes everything personal.

…has no problem inflicting pain on others

…shuts down discussion and debate

…goes his own way; is his own man.

 

The choices presented to Cain are the same choices presented to each of us. But we don’t have to live the days of Cain. If someone has made wrong choices and has wandered far from God, they should know that God, as he had done with Cain, is asking, “Where are you?” God is ready to show mercy. He wants to bring the wanderer back from exile and to redeem his life from the garbage pit and crown him with love and compassion. God seeks to restore His likeness in His image-bearers. No other likeness will stand before him.

 

He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. Psalm 147:10, 11 

“There Is a Solution …”

 

Lent in the Time of Coronavirus

 

“I’m telling you a solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself. If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. If you hate your life in this world, you’ll keep it for the life of the coming age.” -the gospel according to John, 12: 24-25

These words of Jesus were in response to Andrew and Philip. They came to Jesus saying that some Greeks would like to meet him. It seems to be a strange response for a simple request. But Jesus, noting that the “world” was coming to him for answers and for salvation, speaks of his coming death and the means to a resurrected life by following the same vocation. His words define the essence of Lent.

From the earliest days of the church, times of self-examination and self-denial have been observed. The origin of this practice may have been for the preparation of new Christians for Baptism and a reset of their lives. 2020 and the Lenten season is upon us and with it the government recommended “Stay in Place” until April 30th. Easter (April 12th), resurrection day, is the celebratory end of Lent and a restart to new life dependent on what takes place during Lent.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a worldwide intense focus on physical and financial well-being, As we each hunker down and remain sequestered away from the coronavirus, anxiety is compounded: we want to know if we’ll be OK; we want to know where all of this is going and how it will end. The Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus and first-century Jews with their age-old anticipation for a Messiah to set the world to rights had similar concerns.

It is said that Luke, writer of a gospel account and the Acts of the Apostles, was a Greek physician. This being the case, he would testify, if present today, to the infirmities leading to vast numbers of death in the first century. He would recount that there was all manner of infectious diseases, smallpox, parasitic infections, malaria, anthrax, pneumonia, tuberculosis, polio, skin diseases including leprosy, head lice and scabies and, more. Dr. Luke would be the first to tell you that first-century remedies were ineffectual against the afflictions mentioned.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would tell us how Stoic and Epicurean philosophers dealt with grim reality surrounding them.

The Stoics, around the same time as Epicurus, posited a grim fatalist outlook. Considering themselves cogs in life’s machinery, their response was to lead a virtuous life in spite of “it all”. Materialism and passions were of no interest to them. “No Fear” and apathy towards life’s randomness were the attitudes they wore on their shoulder to appear non-self-pitying. They also advocated for suicide -the ultimate form of self-pity.

The philosophy of Epicureanism, posited by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) a few centuries before the birth of Christ, offered mankind self-pity with license. Per Epicurus, there was no God or the gods were uninvolved with men. And, for him, there was no life after death. So, mankind had to make the best of the atoms he was dealt. Man was to do so by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure in the company of like-minded friends. Self-pity could be dealt with in intimate and safe surroundings.

Around the first century Epicureanism and Stoicism were evident in Greek, Roman and Pagan life. These philosophies gave words to what was inherent in man from his days in the Garden – a narrative of mis-trust in God. During the first century these philosophies were already fused with pantheism and the zeal to worship pagan deities.

To seek relief, paganism, an early form of Progressivism, enjoined pagans to offer the distant gods sacrifices to secure their well-being. Israel, called to be the people of God, chose to lament – asking God to respond to dire circumstances according to revealed His nature. Many of the Psalms are worship-infused petitions invoking remembrances of God’s ability to save and vows to praise Him as he does so again.

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me

In the news reports we hear “unprecedented” many times over. Yet, this pandemic is no Black Swan event. History records pandemics, plagues, earthquakes, famines and, all manner of tragedies affecting mankind. In my previous post I mentioned weathering last century’s Asian flu pandemic. And though our response to the current pandemic is “unprecedented” mankind will continue to suffer from unexpected devastating events. Mankind will continue to ask, as did the psalmist (Psalm 22), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” We read above that the psalmist has put his trust in God’s unfailing love. He awaits God’s salvation knowing that God has acted to save a remnant of the faithful before.

Lent, this Lent in particular, is a time to lament. We want to know if we’ll be OK; we want to know where all of this is going and how it will end. Asking God to consider the dire circumstances and to answer according to his nature, is a conversation to foster during Lent. It is a time to consider that there is an advocate – the Word Incarnate – who pleads for us before the throne of God. He does so with ‘real-world’ experience.

The Son of God entered the unsanitary disease-filled world described above. He is fully aware of the pain, suffering and groaning of his creation and of man’s philosophies, with its grains of thought which produce no fruit. He did not come to give us social justice platitudes. He did not come to create a Progressive party and overthrow the establishment. If, as God-man, he had not made the sacrifice to redeem his creation, then he would have “remained alone” as a philosopher with platitudes. He came instead, as he stated to Andrew and Philip, to be a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies in order to bring forth much fruit in his creation.

Per Jesus’ example, Lent is a time to become a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, dies to the flesh on the world’s self-preservation life-support. It is a time to cultivate healthy spiritual habits, habits that produce the fruits that Jesus spoke about when his time of sacrifice was approaching.

As a season for Christians to mark time and to “Stay in Place”, apart for a time from the world’s pervasive influence, Lent is a time for Christians to hunker down, revise routines, and to focus on what matters. It is a time of reflection, repentance and, renewal. It is a time for fasting, growth and, a return to silence and simplicity.

As we do so, we may find that the silver lining we had purchased in the moment, in the midst of dark days of stress and difficulty, was in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. We may learn that the investments we have made – time-wise, financially and morally – are insufficient to carry us forward. We may find that we have greatly leveraged ourselves to control larger and larger positions in life, positions that are more than we can handle. We may have done so to gain acceptance and security from the world. But now there are margin calls we are unable to pay. This may cause us to look to for more security from the world or to God. During this time, we may also learn that our God-given discernment has been used to criticize others and their “sins” and not for intercession on behalf of them.

 

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic ‘exile’, we may be wishing “If only someone would push RESET and we could get on with our lives as before”. A RESET button has been pushed. Jesus of Nazareth, very God of very God and the Word made flesh, came into the world to reset all narratives, including the historical Judaic narrative, by keeping his covenant promises. The epigraph, words to both Greeks and Jews, tells us how.

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest RESET and the only one that really matters. With it, the power of death had been defeated. Remember Jesus telling Martha at the time of Lazarus’s death, “I am the resurrection and the life. And anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die.” (John 11: 25-26) Yes, Jesus wept at the overwhelming sorrow caused by Lazarus’ death. But he knew that he would overcome death and that there would be rejoicing in the new-life fruit his death and resurrection would produce.

Lent in the Time of the Coronavirus is a time for Christians to plant the grain-of-wheat RESET and to be ready to go on with their lives as never before.