Genesis 4:7b and 9
Then the Lord said to Cain…“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.”
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I brother’s keeper?”
One of the many things that is frequently exciting about scripture is finding phrases that you might have heard all your life hidden in plain sight in the text, sometimes in extremely This is one of those – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a phrase we’ve all heard before, but rarely is it used in the appropriate context. Generally, unless you are trying to hide the fact that you murdered your actual brother, you are using it wrong.
Still, we use it to dodge responsibility for others. I’ve heard it used jokingly and heard it used in all sincerity to dismiss any need to help someone in a desperate situation. When Cain said these words, he had already murdered his brother, he knew there was no help for Abel. God had already warned him that he was at a crossroads, that sin was ready to destroy him, and Cain let it.
Really, that’s the part we should be using of Cain’s story – we all have the choice to sin or not to sin. It is that decision that impacts us, and truthfully, it is a little bit about being our brother’s keeper – if we keep our brother, perhaps we aren’t so inclined to murder him.
Probably you don’t scheme murder plots most days, I usually don’t unless I’m driving on an interstate and someone cuts me off, but aren’t there other choices we make that lead us further down the path of sin? God’s warning to Cain is what should be our take away from this: choose wisely, because it is so easy to let sin have its way in our lives. You know what I mean. The clerk at the drugstore was a jerk, so you were a jerk back. The waitress gave you crappy service, so you withheld a tip. Those aren’t necessarily sins in and of themselves, but it is easy to see how they could get there. Next time you are in the drugstore, you are rude first and then eventually you just hold a grudge and are bitter about the drugstore and you don’t even remember why. It’s not hard to get from one bad choice to holding a grudge. And since we know Jesus asked us to pray for our enemies and to love our neighbor, it seems pretty clear that a bitter spirit and holding a grudge are definitely sins.
I think we’ve remembered the wrong part of this passage of scripture and we’ve done it for the wrong reasons. The part we should have latched on to is the verse that warns us of the danger of sin, the one that could have kept Cain from lying about his brother in the first place, had he only heeded it. Our choices have consequences, and sin has a price. The good news of the Bible is that God’s caution to Cain is one we have a better chance of following – God’s redemption plan didn’t end with a warning to control ourselves and make good choices, it unfolded to include the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.