Last semester, our women walked through the first twelve chapters of Genesis. This long been some of my most favorite Scripture–after all, it sets the stage for the entire Bible and helps us better understand those proceeding events in the Bible. During our study, our ladies had such a thoughtful discussion through the story of Cain and Abel and how it applies to us in our personal battle with sin and with others in the community of believers. For the purpose of this particular post, we will look at how it relates to us living in a community of believers. In Genesis 4:9, we see an interaction between the Lord and Cain.
"And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"
As I prepared and I read the words of Cain, the words echoed through my soul as if I had never heard them before. There are many questions we can cling to out of sheer judgment of Cain. Perhaps you quickly questioned, "How dare he speak to God this way?" I have done the same thing. But this time instead of judging him, I sat in his words. You can hear the depth of the sin in Cain's heart as he questions the Lord. Did he really wonder if he should keep his brother? Of course not. Instead we see the response of a hard-hearted murderer. His heart is so hard that he does not care what God thinks, though he should. Cain is bold in his asking of a question to the only One who has the right to question Cain.
In the same breath, we can see the persistence of the Lord. He had come to Cain in verse 7 to give him warning, and even after he sinned we see Him again coming to Cain. But instead of responding when the Lord came to him and invited him into communication, Cain not only avoids answering the question, but he also avoids the God who had given him life. This response revealed the depth of the sin in his heart, and he couldn't help himself. Sin had indeed "crouched at the door" and, in this case, had devoured its prey. His words exposed his heart and his sinful deed. He had already given into the temptation–the temptation that the Lord had warned him of just a few verses earlier. Cain sinned in allowing hatred to breed in his heart, and as a result, he killed his brother.
When we read this story, we often ponder how evil Cain must have been. We arrogantly sit back, astonished that someone could hate someone so much that it would lead to murder. We believe that this has to be the action of someone, the lack of humanity in his heart something we cannot even begin to fathom. However, we know that as a result of sin, our relationships are destroyed. Our horizontal relationships are wrecked because our vertical relationship is wrecked. Rather than Cain loving his brother, caring for him, and seeking his good, he responded with no regard for his brother.
And far too often does this same lack of care for our brothers and sisters define our Christian communities. We have valued ourselves above our sisters. We have envied what our sister has and allowed that envy to breed hatred in our hearts. We secretly desire a growing Christian sister to fail so that we can feel better about our apathy toward Christ. Dear sister, we are just like Cain. If we do not heed the Lord's warning, we, like Cain, will allow sin to overtake us.
Instead of judging Cain and being shocked by his actions, we should pause and ask God to reveal how we are like Cain in our hearts. How have we let sin creep into our hearts? What kind of hatred have we allowed to breed? How have we allowed our sinful, broken state to impact our relationship? We search our hearts and pursue these answers because we know that God did not intend for relationships to be wrecked by sin. Our relationships are meant to give life instead of death. One generation from the garden, and here we are–relationships ending in death. However, the story doesn't end there. God, from eternity past, had a plan to make things right–to restore all things as they were created to be.
As Christians, Christ has mediated between us and the Father. When we sin, there is a great chasm between God and man. But God who is rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love sent His son, Jesus, to reconcile us to the Father by the shedding of His Own blood. He has restored the broken fellowship that our sin has caused. With the vertical relationship restored, He also, through the Spirit, works in us and through us to have relationships with one another that honor Him. And as Paul tells us, we are to "love one another with brotherly affection and outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10).
So, in the Christian community, we are our sister's keeper. We are to care for one another, hold each other accountable, lift each other up, take joy when another one grows in the Lord, and press on together until the day of the Lord. It is likely that us not being our sister's keeper is not from hatred and anger and a lack of love toward one another, though that sometimes can be the case. Rather, it often comes from the unknown. We haven't had people in our lives to "keep" us and desire our good at all costs.
Community is not always easy or fun and does not always result in best friends. Although community certainly can do that, it's more realistic to see a community of believers struggling individually with their own sinful flesh and then struggling as those sinful people come together and try to live in community. But this is what we are called to do. We have great hope and encouragement knowing that God did not leave us to do this in our strength, but He equips us with the Holy Spirit to live in a way that is holy and pleasing to Him–including flourishing in a Christian community.