God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:13-15 (a)

See:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:11-12 (b)

4:13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” 15 Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.

Now suddenly Cain shows some remorse.  As is often the case with humans, it is not committing the sin which bothers us, it is getting caught.  Our sorrow is often related to the consequence we suffer, rather than lamenting the suffering we inflict on others.

“My punishment is greater than I can bear…”  In one sermon Chrysostom portrays Cain as trembling uncontrollably at this point in the story.   St. John sees Cain’s punishment as being worse than death.  “God wanted men of later times to exercise self-control. Therefore, he designed the kind of punishment that was capable of setting Cain free from his sin. If God had immediately destroyed him, Cain would have disappeared, his sin would have stayed concealed, and he would have remained unknown to men of later times. But as it is, God let him live a long time with that bodily tremor of his. The sight of Cain’ palsied limbs was a lesson for all he met. It served to teach all men and exhort them never to dare do what he had done, so that they might not suffer the same punishment. And Cain himself became a better man again. His trembling, his fear, the mental torment that never left him, his physical paralysis kept him, as it were, shackled. They kept him from leaping again to any other like deed of bold folly. They constantly reminded him of his former crime. Through them he achieved greater self-control in his soul.”  (AGAINST JUDAIZING CHRISTIANS)

“…from thy face I shall be hidden…”    Cain has a legitimate fear.   He has been trying to hide his activities from God’s presence, but now is terrified to realize that in fact God might never look upon him with favor again.   We all in Psalm 51:11 pray that God will not cast us away from His presence and that He will not take His Holy Spirit from us.  Cain’s spiritual lesson is a difficult one.  As with most of us, Cain does not want God observing his every word, deed and thought.  He wants God to ignore him for most of what he does, especially that which is wrong.  But when Cain wants God present, he expects God to be at his beck and call to rescue him and protect him.

Cain fears that those who find him shall slay him.  But who on earth was there to find and kill him?   Obviously the text assumes there are in fact other people existing on earth whose existence is not explained by the Genesis story. The text is focusing on one set of humans but the existence of other humans not in this particular lineage is implicitly admitted.

“…a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth…”  The implication of the text is that Cain will never be able to be a citizen of any civilized people.  He has in  fact cut himself  off from society.

St. Andrew of Crete

Chrysostom comments that just as Cain’s repentance came too late – only after the punishment was ordered – so too those who fail to repent before the Judgment Day will be sorely disappointed when they attempt to repent after God has pronounced judgment.  Yes they will at that moment be sincerely sorry for their sins, but no it will not save them from eternal punishment.   It is not the sorrow that saves, but changing one’s life while there is still time.   God promises to accept our repentance and promises to forgive our sins.  He does not however promise us a tomorrow.  Now is the time of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

God puts a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one kills him.  Why didn’t God so mark Abel whose sacrifice was pleasing to Him?

God does not immediately requite the death of Abel by slaying Cain.   Why?  Perhaps to give Cain the chance to repent.   “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).   God is not demanding retributive justice, but rather hopes for the conversion of the sinner. 

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:13-15 (b)

Matins Texts of The Expulsion of Adam & Eve (2)

In this series of blogs I will be quoting and commenting on hymns from the Sunday before Great Lent begins which commemorates the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.   The first blog in the series was entitled The Expulsion of Adam & Eve from Paradise (Hymns).  The blog immediately preceding this one is Matins Texts of The Expulsion of Adam & Eve (1).

 The Canon for the Sunday commemorating the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise explores themes of what it means to be human.  Adam is treated not merely as the historically first human being, but as a prototype of all human beings.  His story is the story of each of us – relating why our relationship to God is what it is, and why the earth we live in is not some perfect paradise – why didn’t God create a paradise for us?  He did, so Genesis says and so Great Lent reminds us, but we lost that Garden of Delight through OUR sin.  In Canticle 3 we find these words:


Satan tempting Adam & Ev e

Long ago the crafty serpent envied my honor

and whispered deceit in the ear of Eve.

Woe is me!  I was led astray

and banished by her from the dance of life.

Note the play on switching between Eve, Adam and us:  the serpent whispers to Eve, and I am deceived laments Adam!   His lament is our lamentation as well.  Humans who share the same nature, share common weakenesses, common temptations and sin.

Many images are contained in the above verses.   There is an explanation offered for why Satan deceived humanity into sinning –  it was envy.  Satan a glorious angel who stood in God’s presence was envious of the attention God gave to humans, and so Satan set out to destroy those he jealously perceived to be his rival for God’s attention.  Satan’s motivation for attaching humanity turns out not to be the result of His love for death and destruction, but because of his self centered narcissism.  Satan could not love, nor could he believe that the God who is love would have enough love for him.

Satan “whispered deceit in the ear of Eve.”  A gentle touch – temptation comes to us often in soft and subtle ways.  We might be repulsed if it came at us in blaring, glaring evil.  We are deceived not only by what we see and hear but by who speaks to us and how.   The spiritual warfare against temptation requires tremendous counterintelligence on our part.  The enemy is not seducing us with bombs of destruction or loud threats of hell fire, but with whispers of deceit.   Too much of modern Christianity portrays Satan as almost God’s equal and evil opposite – all powerful, controlling our lives by violently forcing us into sin.  Satan’s methods however lie not in the ability to force us to do things (he cannot), but in his subtle deception.  In our baptismal exorcisms we defiantly proclaim Satan doesn’t even have power over swine.   We however can choose to be deceived.

Satan whispers in Eve’s ear and deceit becomes incarnate in her actions.  Disregarding the commandment of the Creator who loves her, she follows the suggestion of Satan (He never told her to do anything, he only hints that God lied).    The incarnation of deceit will be reversed and defeated when the Virgin Mary listens to the Archangel Gabriel, allowing his word to enter into her ear, through her heart, into her womb where the Word becomes flesh:  Jesus, the incarnate God.

One final beautiful image and metaphor – the dance of life.  Adam is said to be banished from the dance of life.  Paradise was not only a place of life-giving foods, but of joy in which humans experience God through all our senses, through all our physical motions, through all we say and do and are.

Woe to you, my wretched soul!

How did you not recognize the craftiness of the enemy?

How did you not perceive his deceit and envy?

But you were darkened in mind

and transgressed the commandment of your Maker.       

Another theme of warning from Great Lent – humans are capable of being deceived.  We need to learn a certain wisdom – a holy skepticism about our own desires, wants, cravings, perceived needs.    We must learn discernment.  Just because something looks good or feels good or seems pleasurable, does not mean it has goodness in itself   (See Genesis 3:6 –  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”)    The warning of the hymn is to us – it doesn’t do Adam any good and cannot change what happened in the past.  “Adam” is long dead, but we the children of the first human can learn the lesson – Adam’s story is our story and is about us.   Treating Genesis 2-3 as purely literal history lessons empties them of their value to the sons and daughters of Adam who still live on the same earth he did – namely us!   We learn the story of Adam and Eve, not to regret the sins of our ancestors, but in order ourselves to avoid sin and to embrace the life in God.   It is we who have to learn how to live on this earth in a godly fashion – the story is of no value to the first humans, Adam and Eve!  

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work”   (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   The usefulness of scripture, the value of inspiration, is not that it literally reports history, but even more that it teaches, reproves, corrects and trains us.  The importance of the Genesis 3 account of the Fall of humanity is not that it gives us an exact historical account of what happened, but that it teaches us about our lives today so that we might be equipped for every good work, not just informed about the past.

Next:  Matins Texts of the Expulsion of Adam & Eve (3)