This post is inspired by a sermon I heard fairly recently but I can’t remember who gave it! I’ll update this when I find out.
Did Cain have an identity crisis?
He rocks up presenting God with an offering of fruit and vegetables and then next thing we know he’s murdering his brother and going into exile; frankly, Genesis 4 is depressing. But does Cain’s behaviour have its roots in something that happens earlier.
In Genesis 3:15, as Adam and Eve are thrown out of Eden, God tells them of the future: there’ll be hostility between the Serpent and Eve’s offspring, leading ultimately to the Serpent’s destruction. In Christian thought this is the Protoevangelium, the first hint of God’s plan of redemption that would culminate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Straightforward enough, but here’s where the identity crisis kicks in – how might Eve and Cain have misinterpreted things?
See, Eden must have been a painful, recent memory casting it’s shadow over everything that happened after the Fall. And then Eve gives birth to Cain and maybe, just maybe, hope is reborn, maybe Cain is the offspring to crush the Serpent’s head. Maybe there’s even a chance to get back to Eden.
Thinking like that, is it really a surprise that Cain grows up to be a farmer? Maybe he’s preparing to return to the Garden. Maybe he thinks he can create a new Eden himself. Maybe his offering of “the fruits of the soil” is an attempt to return to God the Fruit that caused all this mess in the first place.
Lots of maybes, sure, but it would explain his rage against Abel, who is adapting to this new world as a nomadic herdsman and whose offering is acceptable to God. It may also help explain some of the tension Genesis shows between herdsmen and settlers. Even after Cain becomes a murderer he’s still trying to get the world under control by building a city.
When someone thinks they’re doing God’s will without actually involving God in the process, that’s dangerous. A crusade to crush serpents, empowered only by broken sinfulness is a terrifying thing. Hey, why wait for Jesus’s thoughts on things? Aren’t we capable of weeding out the Devil ourselves?
You’ll recognise those crusades by the trail of destruction left in their wake. Cain didn’t crush the Serpent, he crushed his brother instead.
And while this is a weird reflection in run up to Christmas, it’s relevant. The Christmas story presents us with kings and emperors trying to bend the world to their will, but real power comes in the form of a baby, in the actions of God and the true descendant of Eve destined to crush the Serpent. Let’s not second guess God, let’s just faithfully listen and learn and follow instead.
After all, Jesus is a way better Gardener than we are.