|The Ghent Altarpiece, ca. 1390-1441|
I can still hear the voice echoing in the wind; the voice of Yahweh, “Cain, where is your brother, Abel? Cain, where is your brother, Abel? CAIN, WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER, ABEL?
My name is known. My name, Cain, is synonymous to many with violence, murder, deceit. Who would ever think to name their child Cain? It wasn’t always that way. My name was given to me as a witness that the Creator God had helped bring into the world yet another reflection of God’s image. Cain is similar to the Hebrew word for “acquired,” as in by the help of the Creator my mother acquired a son.
Cain, where is your brother, Abel? CAIN, WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER, ABEL?
We had gone out to the fields together to bring offerings to God. My younger brother, Abel, was a shepherd. He offered the best of his fold, the most precious of his flock. And the Creator God was pleased. I was a gardener. I offered the leftovers of my harvest from the ground cursed due to the actions of my father, Adam. And God took no regard. I remember thinking: How dare my brother, my little sibling, outdo me? Who is he to think he can bring delight to the Creator by giving his very best? Abel, I will see that you never outdo me again.
Abel was innocent, for sure. He did not deserve the consequences of my pending behavior. Yet envy and rage continued to loom large when I heard the voice again, “Cain, why are you angry? Cain, be on your guard. Cain, sin is lurking at your door. Its desire is for you. It wants to plant seeds of bitterness that will grow into vengeance and will produce violence. Cain, you must overcome your violence before violence overcomes you.
I lured my brother into the fields we both knew so well. We had grown up in these fields. But these fields now haunt me. My brother’s blood cries out from the ground of these fields. My brother’s blood was shed by my hands in these fields…
“Cain, where is your brother, Abel? Cain, where is your brother, Abel? CAIN, WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER, ABEL?”
I do not know! Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my brother’s keeper?
The voice paused, but not for long. I knew the answer to the question. I knew I was my brother’s keeper. I knew I was to be co-laborers with my brother in the Creator’s call for us to be fruitful, to multiply, to care for and reproduce the life God created as good. But I took it instead. I crushed my brother, made in the same image of the God who created us both. I twisted the image. I offended the image. I killed the image. I tried to cover and burry the image…
But Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. Not even I could thwart the concern of this Creator for my younger brother. Not even death could overcome the compassion of this Creator for my younger brother. This creator hears the cries of the oppressed, the weak, the wounded, and those suffering at the hands of violence and injustice. This Creator hears the cries of even the dead.
But for me, a murderer, an abuser, the keeper of death over life, there would be no hope…or so I thought…
Then I heard the voice again, “Not so!”
Could it be that God’s compassion is even for me?