In the old testament, the story of Cain and Abel seems elementary- don’t get jealous of your sibling and murder him. That’s how it was taught in Sunday school. Easy.
But, if we take it apart, we see Cain thought he had good reason to kill his brother. Consumed with rage that God rejected his effort, he takes out his frustration on his innocent, good brother.
Why would he do that?
Cain did his best and thought that should be “good enough”. We do the same thing. “I slaved away at this final and still got a C. I tried to be a good boyfriend but she left me. I’ve been busting my ass at work now for a long time, they still got the promotion over me, the system is rigged against me.”
“Why” isn’t the point.
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”
The text does not give us a reason why. It doesn’t say “Cain’s offering was smaller than Abels.” Or “Cain didn’t give with a cheerful heart and Abel did.” It says nothing about the nature of the offering. The point of the story isn’t to teach us the difference between a good and bad offering, good effort versus poor effort.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
The point I believe it is trying to teach us is that when we fail(because we all will at some point), we first must look in the mirror.
Jordan Peterson in his book 12 Rules for Life, takes it a step further.
“Cain is jealous of course, of his successful brother. But he destroys primarily to spite God.” The light bulb goes on.
Think back to when you played a board game with one of your childhood friends.
You were seven or eight. You were winning like you always do.
You talked your friend into another round, well aware they didn’t stand a chance, and never could.
This time, just as you go to claim victory once again, they stand up, “I’m done! I don’t want to play anymore!” Flip! There goes the game board.
They are not only seething with rage at their inferiority and embarrassment, but they turn the structure of competition upside down, literally. The game board goes flying. The arena in which you were demonstrating your success has been burnt down. Take that.
When Things Aren’t Going Well, First Look Inward
The internal dilemma and judgment we must make whenever something goes wrong are, “Is it me? Or is it external factors? Or is it a combination of the two?” This takes wisdom, maturity, and perspective.
Since we tend to think in binary terms (one or the other) and since it is difficult to look at something we are doing wrong or a character flaw of ours, often we will be tempted to blame external factors.
Our boss. The government. Our wife. The system. The other driver. Traffic. It’s easier, and we don’t have to take the blame and look ourselves in the mirror, its the other guy’s fault.
One of my first managers, when I entered the workforce, would say when things got hectic, “Control what you can control.”
By taking care of myself first, by taking responsibility for what is under my direct control, I set myself up to successfully take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.
When things didn’t go as planned for Cain, he had a choice. He could have gone back and examined himself. He could have taken a step back and evaluated where he was missing the mark. What standard was he missing? What step was he getting mixed up in the process? Surely, it was him that was the problem. Either God was mistaken or Cain was, my money is on Cain.
Follow Jared at @jtwalls7