My Brother’s Keeper

You know that question of if you were stranded on a desert island and could have one book which one would you want? I’ve seen it posed many times in the Facebook book groups I am in and I often answer with Proust as his is the longest novel ever written, but I am now thinking the Bible would be an equally great answer. Or any great spiritual book.

In meditating and writing on these first four chapters of the Bible I have no answers. Scholars, theologians, and holy men have spent lifetimes studying these works and have no answers. These are works of mystery indeed.

The fourth chapter of the Bible is the true birth of man and exile from Eden. Adam and Eve birth two sons, Cain and Abel. They both produce for God and show him what they have made. God praises Abel and this wounds Cain and so Cain kills Abel. God then sends Cain to the land of Nod baring a mark so that no man harms him. Cain has to live out his days with the death of his brother as a stain upon his spirit and a mark upon his body.

Cain then takes a wife a bears a child who begets a child who eventually begets Lamech. Lamech has two wives and a few children of his own and each of these children become the fathers of different professions. The shepherds of the fields, the players of the harp, and the artificers of metal. After this Lamech proudly exclaims that he has killed a man that wounded him for if cain were to be avenged seven-fold then he’d be avenged seventy seven-fold.

My main thought is man never falls. There is no fall of man in the Bible. It isn’t the story of Adam and Eve and the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and it isn’t the murder of Abel by Cain. Neither of these actions end up with the fall of man. Cain goes on to produce children that bear generations of man to come. The shepherds of the field, the players of the harp, and the artificers of metal are all descendants of Cain.

If we really think about this it is the story of human nature. It, in some ways, answers the question of why is there evil in the world. The answer is we are all descendants of the first murderer. A man that struck down his own brother out of jealousy.

Think back to God’s reaction to the murder of Abel. He is disappointed in Cain, but when Cain offers to let himself be struck down God marks him so that he isn’t harmed and promises that if anyone harms Cain then Cain will be avenged seven-fold. It is said later in the Bible that God is love, that God shows humanity his steadfast love, and that God is mercy.

Last Sunday our pastor asked us in her sermon if Judas is forgiven. Not as a question she wanted or needed an answer to, but something for us to think on. Dante, famously, places Judas in the ninth circle of hell, reserved for the worst sinners. In one of the gospels Judas repents. He attempts to return the silver and is ashamed at what he has done.

It is said in the gospels that God rejoices when a sinner returns to the fold, when the lost coin is found, the lost sheep is brought back to the flock, or when the wayward son journeys home. Here we have the first true sinner. Cain strikes down Abel and, while he is punished, it is not as harsh a punishment as befits the first sinner. Cain goes of and begins a line that populates to earth and not just populates the earth but populates it with shepherds, artists, and blacksmiths.

In this way we are all the descendants of Cain, but if God can forgive Cain his trespasses then he can certainly forgive us our trespasses. By marking Cain and promises seven-fold vengeance on anyone who harms him God isn’t punishing Cain with the guilt of his brother’s murder. He is offering mercy, love, and forgiveness. The type of mercy, love, and forgiveness we should offer ourselves.

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