Summer Stories: Cain and Abel
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” - Genesis 4:9
If you know the story around this quote, then you know that Cain knows where Abel is. God knows where Abel is. Cain should know that God knows that Cain knows where Abel is. Even so, God asks Cain where he is. Even so, Cain lies: “I don’t know.”
In order to understand what is happening in this interaction, two questions need to be asked. First, why does God ask what he already knows? Second, why does Cain lie so obviously to God?
The more complicated question is why Cain lies. It is a question that exposes all of us. It exposes us because we all use lies… believe lies that we think protect us. Usually, our lies aren’t obvious. They take the form of narratives. Likely, Cain built a narrative where he believed that his conflict with his brother wasn’t his fault. It was Abel’s fault. It was God’s fault. God and Abel had conspired against him first. He was simply protecting himself from their unfairness and ganging up against him. In that narrative, he is not his brother’s keeper. In that context, God is not to be trusted with truth that God will just use against him.
A theologian named Miroslav Volf noted: “Sin is not so much a failure of knowledge as a misdirection of will which generates its own counter-knowledge.” What he means by that is that sin is rarely intentionally choosing the wrong thing. More often it is interpreting things wrongly to justify what we want, what we believe, or what we’ve done.
Cain’s lying was his attempt to live from a counter-knowledge that justified him.
Now it is easier to understand why God asked a question he already knew the answer to. God was inviting Cain into a shared narrative. God was giving Cain an opportunity to work through what was true about God, about Cain, and about life. God wanted to hear Cain’s perspective, his pain, his lament, in hopes that Cain might also begin to more clearly see God. God was inviting Cain into a place where redemption was possible.
Here is why this is helpful to us. Each one of us live by self-protective narratives. These are the narratives that allow us to justify sins as common as anger or as diabolical as racism. They provide space for us to dismiss and devalue others. Every one of us struggle with these narratives. But if we listen, if we incline our ears to God, we begin to hear his questions. We begin to hear his invitation to trust and to open our narratives so that God can lead us into healing, into redemption, into forgiveness, and into truth.
Dear Jesus, we confess that we are not aware of where our narratives are false. But we do realize the ways that anger and hatred and dismissing our brothers and sisters creep into our lives. Help us to hear your questions. Help us to trust you enough to listen. We place our lives in your hands to lead us into healing, reconciliation, and truth. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.