Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another. Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.” No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain! I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!
Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this: Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s. So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.
Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate! As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world. Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration. Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it. Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!” That’s what happened to me last week. Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.
It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me. The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.” Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over. It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it. THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them. It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.” That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word. This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.
I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective. I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives. I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.
So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel? Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood. Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)! I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective. Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer. When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb. So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different. Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God. It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself. It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had. He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected. Wouldn’t YOU be?
How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His? How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me? It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways! At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father. We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice. Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely. Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.
Ok, so back to Cain… In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother. Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important: We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy. But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you. It wants to take you down! It wants you! If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.” God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.
After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.” What do you think that conversation was like? I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him. “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care! And then do you know what He said to me??” I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right. I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.” Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean. When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother. Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion. Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).
On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would. I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back. I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!” It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down. It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you. I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best! In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.
As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!” I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me. And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out. But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you. You’ve got to let it go and trust me.” Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine. And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.
It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective. He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine. He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.
I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.