Last fall, I was chosen to participate in the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Seminar sponsored by Butler University's Center for Faith and Vocation in partnership with Christian Theological Seminary. Rabbi Sandy Sasso, retired from Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis, directed the six-week seminar that included three other faculty who presented the following perspectives on the story of Cain and Abel: Cain and Abel in literature and poetry, in the visual arts and in music.
The story of Cain and Abel is recorded in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verses 1-16. God judged Cain's harvest less than Abel's offering of a lamb. Cain was jealous, and killed his brother. Using
the Jewish practice of Midrash to interpret the story, (http://learn.conservativeyeshiva.org/introduction-to-rabbinic-midrash-O-introduction-midrash-in-3-steps/), we examined the central question, "Why did God reject Cain's offering?" Was it because of the content of the offering or did it have to do with the character of the brothers.? Both Christian and Jewish scholars have wrestled with this question for centuries with no definite answer.
Four Words to Understand Cain and Abel
My time with this story led me to these words - forgiveness, compassion, protection and provision. I believe God forgave Cain and from that forgiveness flowed God's compassion, protection and provision. God's compassion was clear for Cain, for God gave Cain a purpose and direction following the murder. God told Cain that he was banished from the place where he lived and would forever be a wanderer (verse 12). God's provision and protection for Cain continues in verse 15 where God places a mark on Cain so that no harm will come to him. Some interpret the "mark" as a letter that God engraved on Cain's forehead. Others believe Cain was given a dog to protect him.
There is great hope in the story of Cain and Abel, for the nature of God is revealed. We may not commit murder, but we do sin. When sin happens, we can come to God with a contrite heart, with the assurance God will grant forgiveness, wrap us in love and compassion, and guide us along paths of right living.
Study the Story
Take a moment and read the story of Cain and Abel. Read different translations if possible to see how different language can change meaning or perspective.
Here are a few questions to guide you:
1. What type of work did Cain and Abel do?
2. What did each bring to God as an offering?
3. God predicted that Cain would sin in response to God's rejection (verse 7). How did Cain respond to God's rejection?
4. How do you react to God's rejection of Cain's offering?
5. What do we learn about the nature of God from the story?
6. Have you ever been jealous of a sibling or friend? How do you react to these feelings? In what ways have you worked through the situation in which you felt jealous?
7. How would you explain this story to a child?
Prayer: God, there are times when we experience injustice from another or from life circumstances. Jealousy can rob us of life, blocking or limiting our connection to you. Guide us through these difficult emotions that come, helping us see your light and companionship as we work through and explore the causes. Forgiveness helps us come to a place of peace in you. Amen.