There were no cakes baked, candles lit, and “Happy Birthdays” sung to that first couple who made their living on the outskirts of Eden. No mother’s tummy bulged with baby Adam in it. No sonogram took a snapshot of Eve in utero. One began in dirt, the other in a rib, but neither had their genesis when two lovers had a pleasurable roll in the hay.
Adam and Eve were the first humans, but not really—not in any way with which we can identify. Their origins are too unlike our own. But their bouncing baby boys, Cain and Abel, now that’s a different story.
These two brothers—we get them. Conceived in sex, born crying, and raised by two flawed parents in a world where oncologists are never out of work and coffins are sometimes three feet long. Sound familiar? We can hang with these guys. They know where we’re coming from.
Well, Cain does anyway. I’m not so sure about Abel. He’s like one of those haloed saints, all Orthodox-icon-looking, staring unblinkingly at us through a candlelit haze. I’m sure he was nice, just not a fellow you could share a couple of pints with late on a Friday night. But Cain? Oh, yeah, he was game.
But our affinity with Cain goes much deeper and darker than that. When the two siblings showed up in church one day to do their sacrificing, and when the Almighty did not approve of Cain and his offering—in that moment the older brother is elevated in our hearts to evil hero status.
When we observe Cain stalking off, slamming the church door behind him, and brooding over his wounded ego, we are keenly aware of him inhabiting our world. Inwardly, his anger storms. Outwardly, his countenance falls. He wears his soiled soul on his face. The one thing that would make all the difference in his world—God’s approval, God’s acceptance—he does not have.
Cain’s heart is restless, so he invents his own resting places: anger, bitterness, malice, self-pity.
So, he sets out to make a world of his own in defiance of God. Sin is crouching at his door, the Lord warns, so what does Cain do? Why, he invites it in, of course. Pets it, feeds it, pats it on the head, and lets this fanged and fiery beast sleep in his own bed. Cain’s heart is restless, so he invents his own resting places: anger, bitterness, malice, self-pity. Far from mastering evil, he massages it, manipulates it, and is thereby transmogrified from evil’s master to its sycophantic slave.
Cain’s face so resembles my own that the reflection scares the hell out of me. As well it should. I’ve walked more than a mile in Cain’s shoes. I’ve worn his skin. Partnered with his heart. He and I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and considered it a carnival of devilish delight. He and I have taken out our anger at God on people. Burned the Lord with human effigies. And why? All for one reason: the Lord did not look with favor upon us and our sacrifices. So, to get even with heaven, we rebelled against earth.
Sound familiar? It should; it’s your unedited autobiography with Cain’s flushed face on the title page. Go ahead, judge this book by its cover.
If we only had one thing, everything would be different. But that one thing—the Lord’s approval—we can’t seem to manhandle into our possession. In the end, for Cain, this yawning gap in his life meant taking the final, fatal step of crushing heaven by crushing a brother, a shepherd, the one whose sacrifice had been accepted. So we step behind the yellow crime tape of Genesis 4 to see a body, and blood, pooled on the ground that opened its mouth to drink it in.
God says to Cain, “Where is your brother?” And the smart-aleck responds, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Ignoring this evasion, God says, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” In those words, he reveals three of the most profound truths embedded in the fabric of the universe:
1. Blood has a voice
2. Blood cries out to God
3. Blood is heard by heaven.
Blood has taken the microphone and it’s not letting it go. Blood will not shut up. It will have its say. And every word will lodge in the ears of the Almighty.
Here, in this ghastly scene, where the rebel lives and the righteous dies, we enter into the twilight zone of an audacious reversal no one with an inkling of common fairness could have envisioned. Cain is driven out, yes. He becomes a vagrant and a wanderer, yes. But he also becomes, in the strangest of surprises, a protected man. He is marked with a divine sign that shields him.
He who deserved the worst, this first murderer, is still shown grace. How unbelievably unexpected is that?
Perhaps not so unbelievable after all. Because this same God who heard Abel’s blood crying, had already—in the mystery of mysteries—heard the blood of the Lamb crying, who was slain from the foundation of the world. And, as Hebrews beautifully says, that blood speaks better than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24). It speaks the red rhetoric of redemption.
When Christ’s blood takes the microphone, every square inch of the vast universe, every subterranean haunt of darkness, every hot and blackened corner of hell, and every angel in the celestial choir, shut up to listen.
It would be shed, this blood of Jesus, in the course of time. Like Abel, he too was a brother, a shepherd, the one whose sacrifice was accepted. His blood too has a voice, it cries out to God, and it too is heard by heaven. When Christ’s blood takes the microphone, every square inch of the vast universe, every subterranean haunt of darkness, every hot and blackened corner of hell, and every angel in the celestial choir, shut up to listen. When Christ’s blood takes the microphone, it is the only sound in creation, the booming declaration that echoes down the corridors of time, saying, “Father, forgive them.”
We, who like Cain, are restless, find rest in that voice. We who can never find divine approval in ourselves, find it in that man named Jesus. And we are marked—dear God, are we marked—by the wet kiss of baptism upon our soiled souls. Cleansed, loved, welcomed, protected, and approved by the God with a heart big enough to hold the world.