Day 03 Devotional & Discussion – March 7, 2014

Genesis 4:1-16

Today’s Scripture is about a cold, calculated murder within the first family.  God takes strong action in response to Cain’s murder of  his brother, banishing him from the land.  However, God does not take his life, but instead places a mark upon him to protect his life.

Would you call God “soft on crime” or a “law and order” God?  How does God’s action toward Cain fulfill justice?  How do you feel about God’s actions toward Cain first in banishing him and then in protecting him?

7 comments

  1. I had never thought much about God’s mercy toward Cain until this week. Cain is a murderer. What do we do with murderers? Depending on the state, first degree murder can mean ending up on death row, awaiting execution. The death penalty is often justified by the pointing to the Old Testament Law. If someone takes a life, his life shall also be taken. But in this instance, God refuses to execute Cain. In part, I believe that God is showing us that every person –even a murderer– is valuable and redeemable. While there is consequences to Cain’s action, God’s decision to preserve and protect the life of Cain going forward gives Cain a new beginning–a second chance. This act of grace and mercy challenges those who insist on the death penalty as the only “just” response to murder. The death penalty has been eliminated in Illinois, but several of the candidates for governor have advocated for reinstating it as a deterrent to crime. I question whether that platform reflects God’s heart for life.

  2. My first thought before reading your thoughts, Bruce, is that this story was going to be an example of lifelong punishment. But you see mercy!

    When I looked at the passage, I did not remember that the Lord intervenes before Cain kills Able. Clearly Cain is upset at Able, but I wonder if he is also upset at the Lord? If so, then maybe in his heart and mind he shrugged off the Lord’s intervention. Something like that seems to be the case because he allowed himself to express his anger in murder. Either way, I find it very helpful to understand the larger consequences God eventually gives Cain in light of this earlier intervention.

    So I do see mercy. The punishment only came after a merciful intervention in which the Lord attempts to dissuade Cain from acting out on his anger. I especially find it instructive when the Lord says “If you do what is right, will not be accepted?” because this statement came after Cain had brought a sacrifice that was not acceptable to God. This shows the heart of the Lord’s mercy. Those who have committed sin are still able to do what is right and be accepted. If this is the heart of the Lord, we should show that heart of mercy to the people in our lives, including the penal system.

    Like you, I also see the mercy in the Lord’s protection of Cain, using the mark. There is still a punishment that lasts a lifetime, but perhaps we can understand it as the Lord taking the edge off the punishment. So I don’t think this is an example of God being soft on crime at all. Many other biblical stories corroborate. In fact, though I see how the Lord was merciful to Cain proactively and reactively, it is possible to view Cain’s punishment as “without possibility of parole”. But in the context of Cain’s act of murdering his brother, it is hard for me to say how far mercy should extend.

    This one is personal. I once had to stand before a judge, and I was asking for mercy, but I also felt like the judge had every right to prosecute me to the fullest extent of the law. I had thoughts that even asking for the slightest bit of mercy was arrogant and ridiculous, because a life was gone, and it was my fault. A lesser sentence? I felt, and still think, my sentence was a pittance compared to the loss of a life. I was a juvenile, but I can still see how an adult should feel that life in prison is an acceptable punishment for their crime of taking another life. How can we ever judge whether a number of years in prison is equal to a life that was taken? I really wrestle with this. It would seem to me, having been there to some extent, that a murderer should be willing to face just about any punishment because of the severity and finality of what they did.

    I wonder how Cain felt about the Lord’s judgment? You don’t really get any significant picture of remorse or a willingness to make restitution. He seems pretty self-absorbed. I wish I knew more of his story.

    Before I come across a super harsh, let me finish with this: how the criminal responds to their judgment is huge. I feel that while of course they would want mercy, they should also be totally receptive to receive punishment to the full extent of the law. And if they humbly accept it, then work hard to change, to make restitution, etc. a lessening of the sentence, including parole and full integration to society is acceptable in my thinking. I guess I wish I would see more of that in God’s judgment of Cain. There’s just not enough of the story to go on.

    1. Joel, God gives Cain a tough sentence for sure. A murder occurred and there are consequences. I’m not suggesting that when a crime occurs there should be no consequences. However, even in the sentence of exile, there is the opportunity for rebuilding one’s life. Cain goes on to build a city and have a family. Makes me think of Australia–originally a penal colony. I believe a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” attitude is antithetical to God’s mercy in the midst of consequences. There has to be space for redemption, restitution and restoration for the lawbreaker if we believe in grace. In our current “law and order” climate, there is more interest in perpetual punishment–including after the time has been served. I’m glad you experienced mercy when you stood before the judge. I wish more did.

      1. I agree. It is very instructive to see that God was so merciful toward Cain, though there is no overt description of Cain’s penitence. Maybe he was. We can’t say. But that is not the point, or I would assume the writer would include it. What seems to be the point is the judgment with mercy. I guess I have a hard time with not seeing the penitence. Where is the balance? By that I mean that punishment is a fair response to crime. So is mercy. I am much more inclined to apply mercy to the penitent. I wonder, to what degree should the impenitent receive mercy?

  3. Building off of Joel’s last statement in his comment, in reading the story this time around I was struck by how much we’re NOT told about what went on: we go from Eve giving birth to two sons to murder in eight verses (and not even long verses at that!). Twice as much time is spent on describing the results of Cain’s actions. I wonder what – if anything – that means. For, certainly, Cain’s punishment is very reminiscent of the punishment his parents received for their wrongdoing – a mark of separation and removal from the original community.

    I think it’s telling that in both cases the punishment is handed out by God Himself. No human judges are involved. That coupled with the mark of Cain actually being for his protection sounds a lot like God asserting His right as the true Judge and paving the way for a further life for Cain despite his crime (as Bruce stated). To me, this is a deeper lesson than just mercy and justice (though they are both present here); I think this is a lesson about God’s place in the world, that because God knows the hearts of human beings He’s really the only one capable and worthy of dispensing judgment, especially judgment with permanent consequences. It’s this lesson that forms the basis for Christ’s injunction not to judge, I believe.

    I’ll admit though, I’m not sure how this squares with our justice system here in the U.S. If I’m trying to find a modern day equivalent to exile, prison – at first blush – seems to be it. But there’s clearly something wrong with the analogy, since Cain was allowed to continue living his life in exile as a member of the human race (settling down, having children, building a community) but the same cannot be said for those incarcerated for long periods of time or those with life sentences.(or even those who have been paroled but carry the FELON designation for the rest of their lives). I’m not sure what the answer is to this, to be honest.

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