When I was a kid, the worst punishment my parents could dish out was grounding me from reading.
Yes, you read that right. My parents grounded me from my books.
It was the only punishment that truly devastated me. I loved to read more than anything else. More than cleaning my room. More than helping with the dishes. Waaaay more than keeping track of my little sister. I read outside on the porch-swing, lying on trampolines, sitting on steps, in the car, in stores, after church, before school, during breakfast…if a book was in my hands, I was content. It’s just the way I’ve always been wired. So when I got out of line, home work reading was all I was allowed.
And it was torture. Characters were left hanging, plots in mid-turmoil…it was a crisis situation for 9-year-old Christie.
And so the threat of a book-prohibition was all I usually needed to grab my attention. It was more punishment than I could handle and I’d avoid it, even if it meant scrubbing the toilet without whining. Which is still hard for me to do.
I was thinking about choices and consequences because of Mr. Cain. When we last talked about Cain, he had ignored God’s warning that sin was waiting to master him. Instead of opening his heart to God, Cain held onto his pride and anger. He refused to take the opportunity to make things right…and he ended up killing his own brother.
And in spite of the fact that God had just spoken to Cain about the state of his heart, knowing everything about him, Cain thought he could slide under God’s radar on this.
“Where is your brother Abel?” God asked. “I don’t know,” Cain replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Murder, lies, and sarcasm with the Almighty God.
Which goes to show that sin blinds you to even common sense. God gave Cain a chance here — he could have fallen on his face in admission of guilt…he could have confessed and said that he was sorry…and instead, he chose to show off more of his prideful attitude.
God’s answer was this: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
And is this when Cain finally broke down in sorrow, admitting he was wrong and pleading for forgiveness?
His eyes were still on himself. “My punishment is more than I can bear,” he said. “Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever find me will kill me.”
We don’t see that Cain felt sorrow for his brother’s death, for the loss of a good life and the way it would affect his family. His sorrow is selfish, concerned only with his punishment and his own future. It’s also interesting how he phrased his complaint (“Today, you are driving me from the land” ) in a way that shifts the blame of the situation to God.
It would be nice to say that Cain behaved nothing like you and I. And yet….this scene is familiar. God gives a warning, a human disobeys, and sin destroys a life….and in the aftermath, there is denial and finger-pointing. This sounds, to me, just like what happened with Cain’s parents in the Garden of Eden.
It also sounds like what I’ve seen in my own life. Maybe you can relate.
We have been given warnings — we have the entire Word of God to teach us what is wrong. The Holy Spirit directs and convicts us. And yet…sometimes we choose to sin. Knowing that God is all-seeing, we somehow think we’ll slide under the radar just this one time. My actions won’t be that big of a deal. And maybe, afterwards, the Holy Spirit tries to correct us. Maybe God uses a family member, a friend, or a pastor to speak to us about our actions. Haven’t we all had one of those moments where we get all defensive and huffy and mind your own business-ish? We’ll deny that we are wrong and pretend like everything is hunky-dory. Even to ourselves. Even to God. So when the consequences come along…dude, we are somehow surprised. We get upset with God, like it’s His fault that we chose to disobey Him.
In our sinful nature, we are all stubborn and prideful. We can read about Cain’s actions and act all shocked…but the truth is, each of us has the ability to behave like him. That’s why it is so important to submit ourselves to God, to renew ourselves in Him and His word daily, to put on His armor so that we are alert and ready to resist when sin crouches at our door, ready to master us as it did Cain.
The most amazing piece of Cain’s story, to me, is what comes next. After all of those bad choices and horrible attitudes, you might think that God would just say ‘forget it’ and leave Cain to his own devices. But He didn’t do that. He didn’t turn a deaf ear to Cain’s complaints….instead, He was merciful. When Cain lamented that he would surely be killed, God went as far as putting a physical mark on him so that no one would lay a hand on him. God saved his life and Cain went out into the world and began his own family.
I am so thankful for that ending to the story. Because He did the same for me. He did the same for you. When we were in sin, heading towards eternal death, He made a way for us to be saved. Even when we don’t deserve it…even when everyone else would write us off as hopeless…God is merciful to still draw us to His side. He longs for us to obey His voice, so that we can live in abundant joy with Him…He does not want us to ever be cast away from His presence. Truly, that is a consequence that is too horrifying to even comprehend.
But still…even with his life intact because of God’s mercy, Cain’s ending is also a sad one. His future could have gone so differently. He had so many chances to make things right with God, from that first moment when God told him that he try again…he could bring the correct sacrifice. He could have spent the rest of his life in the favor of the Lord, working the ground that he loved and living in harmony with his whole family. Instead, he was cast away into another land, the ground wouldn’t produce for him anymore, and he was estranged from everyone he’d known…
So if we learn anything from Cain, let us see that we must listen to the voice of God and be aware that our actions do matter… consequences will come our way, so let’s sow obedience. Let’s plant peace and compassion, generosity and love. I don’t know about you, but I want to reap the wonderful promises of God.
Our God is so gracious in giving each of us chances to repent of our sins and live in freedom…He gives each of us His love and the promise of eternal life – don’t refuse your opportunities to know Him. Don’t ignore the Holy Spirit that beckons you into a closer relationship with Him. Your decisions…your attitudes…your heart…nothing is hidden from God.
Humbly surrender it all to Him and know that this promise is for you:
“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else,I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you, bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.” ~Jeremiah 29:11-14