In their most superficial wrestlings against the veracity of Scripture, young people often throw out questions to Christian apologists such as, “Where did Cain get his wife?” However, today, apologetics ministries such as Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), report that on college and university campuses all over the world, the questions have gotten deeper, more honest and more desperate. Inquiries are much closer to the heart of the matter – the human heart, that is, as our world reaps the fallout of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the other humanistic and relativistic philosophies that rule the day in popular culture. Our youth are experiencing the perils of ‘freedom’ from a sense of accountability to God.
As soon as Adam and Eve took their first punch at the button of autonomy, they realized they could not handle it, but like the contents of Pandora’s box, the consequences of choosing to decide right from wrong for themselves, could not be undone. The decision to grasp and determine good and evil, by one’s own heart, for oneself, is today celebrated, defended vociferously and even violently all over the World. It is especially so, here in America, on our college campuses and is even encoded in our Constitution, though hemmed in by guardrails which the Founding Fathers had enough Biblical grounding to know are a necessary component for the exercise of freewill. To answer this generation’s insistence that self-determination of right and wrong is mankind’s birthright, instead of submission to the will of Creator God, is every Christian’s responsibility.
Waiting quietly before the pages of the testament of God’s self-revelation, the Bible, yields Truth to the humbled heart, and points the way to go. Going through such an exercise recently, as centuries of seekers of God’s will have done, in my bid to understand this seminal point of mankind’s descent into the slough of pain, confusion, self-harm, and self-destruction that has resulted from taking our own way, I noticed God’s first assignment to Adam, when he sent him out of the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:23 says,
“ …therefore the Lord sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.”
This instruction made me wonder if the act of working the soil ‘from which he was taken’ was intended to keep before Adam’s eyes the fact of his mortality, and also to train him in submitting to the discipline of physical labor and thus provide opportunity to further observe the laws of sowing and reaping. The act of physical labor seemed to have been prescribed as a symptomatic treatment for hearts prone to go astray. Folks a few generations removed from ours warned, “The devil finds work for idle hands”.
Such considerations, taken to heart, kept them aware of man’s utter need for awareness of God and of the necessity of attention to His will.
It was also thought-provoking to note that their first-born, Cain, like his father, Adam, was also a ‘tiller of the ground’, while his brother, Abel, was a ‘keeper of sheep’. Abel’s occupation was quite intriguing since, at this point, mankind was still herbivorous, the eating of animal flesh having not been initiated until after the world-wide flood. Going simply by the written text, my conclusion has been that Abel tended sheep only for purposes of worship – to sacrifice to God, as the slaying of an animal, initiated by God had made temporary reparations for man’s rebellion at its inception in the garden.
But as man’s heart continued to warp and morph in its flight from God’s grasp, even at a time and place appointed for worship, envy, hate and murder were birthed. Cain, disgruntled that God had responded more favorably to his brother’s offering than to his, murders his brother in a field and conceals the act. What was interesting to note, for purposes of this discussion, was the precaution which God had issued to Cain, concerning his envious upset, prior to the murderous act;
“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’.” Gen 4:6-7 (NKJV)
In these first Divine ‘parental’ admonitions, recorded after the Fall, the Heavenly Father presents to Mankind, through Cain, guardrails for the human heart. He invites Cain to examine the source of his anger, (Why are you angry?), and also to observe its initial ominous manifestations in his physical body, (Why has your countenance fallen?). Then He appeals to the sowing and reaping principle, which Cain, as a farmer, ought to have apprehended, (If you do well, will you not be accepted?). Implied in the Father’s cautionary statement is that Cain knew what ‘doing well’ looked like, and even if he had not learned, up to this point, observing God’s pleasure over his brother’s offering ought to have been instructive. Then, knowing the heart of his son, Cain, God the Father warns him of where he is being led by its rebellious inclination, and instructs in how to resist, (“And if you do not do well, sin lies at your door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it”). James, Jesus’ earthly sibling, later in the epistles, elaborates on this process explaining,
“You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” James 4:2 (NLT)
“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” James 4: 7-8 (NLT)
Sadly, Cain refuses the Father’s counsel, follows his heart and is dragged away by yielding to it, committing the first murder. Curses of isolation, fears of retributions and restless wanderings, spring up from the ground of Cain’s rebellious course and the weight of the full out-workings of its prospect overwhelm him. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Gen 4:13 NIV) he pleads.
In the exponentially increasing suicide rates, the epidemic of self-harming behaviors, and drug imbibing habits of our youth culture, I hear the cries of Cain. “It’s more than I can bear!” The course, along which our heart, unguarded leads, dead-ends in unbearable pain, loneliness, confusion and a fearful expectation of judgement. We must identify the enemy – our errant heart, and access the guardrails of the Father’s instructions, even welcome them like the Psalmists did, ‘How I love Thy Law’ and ‘The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places’. Failure to do so leaves us vulnerable to the sin which lies at the door of our every temptation to compare, covet, take offense and self-justify. And as the Father warned, it will devour us, having run us ragged in the wilderness of sin, where finding a spouse will be the least of our worries.