There’s a story early in the Old Testament that has puzzled people for years. It’s the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. The narrative walks us through the time when both offered sacrifices to God, but God only had regard for Abel and his offering, not Cain’s. Some have suggested that Abel’s offering was somehow better than Cain’s, but the text shows no indications of that. It simply says that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4, 5). Cain was a farmer, so he presented God with an offering of the fruit of the ground. That makes sense. Abel was a herdsman, so he presented God with an offering of his livestock. That makes sense, too. Yet God liked one more than the other. Though that might not make sense to us, it does not mean that we can’t accept it.
Cain couldn’t accept it. In fact, it says that he grew angry and his face fell (4:5). So God asks him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” (4:6). God’s question is very searching, penetrating deep into our souls, unburying their gross dysfunction.
Something happened after the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, which colors all of our text in Genesis 4 with their children, Cain and Abel. Sin began in Genesis 3, but the effects of sin are described in Genesis 4. The major affect of sin is that it causes us to turn from God to self. In fact, that’s what Cain’s anger was all about: he couldn’t let God be God.
Cain couldn’t let God prefer one sacrifice over the other, as if God were not allowed to like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla. But so what if God prefers chocolate over vanilla? What is that to us? So what if God prefers Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s? What’s the big deal? Can’t God be God? God is not obligated to us, as if we’re his Creator and Master.
Sin had caused Cain to place himself at the center of the universe, and his heart’s desire was for everything to revolve around him—even God. His sacrifice was not really about worshipping God, but about God worshipping him. Think about that.
Cain wanted God to make a big deal out of his offering, not his brother’s. It wasn’t about God at all, but about Cain.
I learn a lot from Cain’s pride, for it forces me to search the areas in my life where I am not letting God be God. God is holy other and wholly other than me; he can do whatever he pleases. So what if he prefers to take my life or leave it? He is God and can do as he chooses. So what if he chooses to bless my neighbor more than me? He is God and he can do as he chooses. Who am I to get angry and allow my face to fall?
Allow God’s question to address you, too. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” Why are you bitter with God? Do you think he owes you?
Let God be God. Only then will we discover the true meaning of worship.
© Samuel Kee, 2013