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. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” 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.” But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (NIV)
It didn’t take long for the human race to go off the rails. Cain gets the sulks when he figures his brother Abel is in God’s good books while he himself is not. The sulking turns more serious, and he kills Abel. Not the last time someone will be killed because of someone else’s envy. Not all murder is done in the name of twisted religion or grand passion. Some of it arises out of petty dislikes and thwarted wishes.
However, it happens, such acts can’t be hidden from God. Cain’s pathetic attempt at lying gives rise to his famous comment about not being his brother’s keeper. Not only does this reply suggest he didn’t commit murder. It also implies that he isn’t his brother’s keeper. When in fact we can’t escape from human solidarity quite so easily. We can’t control others’ lives but nor can we be indifferent to them.
Cain has to accept the consequences of his actions. The land he farms will become an adversary: it will be hard work. And more than that, he will be a fugitive from God. And yet, God hasn’t given up on him. Cain, and all who defy God and destroy others, are still image bearers of God. Their lives, too, are valued. Cain might have gone off the tracks, but he hasn’t forfeited his humanity. Each of us may be infected with this virus of God defying independence but each of us is still loved by him. We bear his mark in spite of our shortcomings.
We all wander in our East of Eden world, but God hasn’t abandoned us. He has come looking for us, beckoning us home. God didn’t stay in some pristine world of perfection but entered the mess and muck of the human condition in the person of Jesus. We may be fugitives but are invited to be friends.