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The Story of Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel

There is a short story in the Bible that talks about two brothers, Cain and Abel – Cain was the older brother. Cain worked the soil, while Abel kept flocks. Over time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel too brought an offering, fat portions from his flock. The Lord looked down favourably on Abel and his offering but did not look down favourably on Cain and his offering. Cain became very angry because of this, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to him, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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.”

Cain later led his brother out into the field where he killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “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.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 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.

But the Lord said to him, “Not so, anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the and of Nod, east of Eden.

Analysis

There is timeless wisdom in the story of the hostile brothers that Jordan Peterson repeatedly refers to. Both Abel and Cain made sacrifices to God, but Cain’s sacrifices are rejected. We are not told why they are rejected, but there is a suggestion that Cain has sinned – the Lord demands that he not allow sin to have its way with him. Yet Cain does, and later seeks vengeance on his brother, who represents the ideal. Abel is not scolded by God and this is likely due to his worthy sacrifices. Rather than seek to redeem himself from sin, Cain’s solution to his own problems is to murder the ideal. But doing so led to his own destruction – his future crops would no longer bear fruit.

There is an irresistible temptation to blame others for your failure. Doing so will absolve you of guilt, and from courageously facing the flaws in your own character. Doing so will stunt your personal growth. By convincing himself that the Lord’s choice was unfair, rather being self-critical, Cain escaped the burden of personal responsibility. The mass murderers in history share Cain’s worldview, they brood in their mother’s basement in resentment, until they decide to exact revenge on the rest of the world, and eventually, on themselves.

Killing your ideal does not need to happen literally, but can happen metaphorically. If you feel that your labor is not yielding crop for you to harvest, you will be tempted to reject your ideal and find new ways of getting what you want. Perhaps you abandon your project of getting what you want and resort to nihilism, escapism, and despair.

The wisdom of this story is indeed timeless, but more than that, it is universal. There is no person that cannot relate to it in some way. If you have felt the need to rebel against your own values because of bad fortune, then you can relate to it. Brothers that have resented each other out of jealousy can relate to this, and often this happens in childhood – a testament to our deep familiarity with the Cain archetype.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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