The text is odd: it says that God did not have “regard” for the sacrifice that Cain made. It is not clear how Cain or Abel knew the absence or presence of God’s “regard.” But it is clear that, whatever it means, to fail to have regard for something is different from rejecting it. God seems to have (merely) not looked at Cain’s offering. This is a neutral stance, something between acceptance and rejection. (The text, of course, is in Genesis 4.)
God asks Cain why he is angry, why his countenance is fallen. God tells him he has a choice ahead of him to do good or to do evil. God makes it clear that what he is interested in is how Cain is going to develop as a character. Cain is free here; there is nothing foreordained about his future. Like his parents facing the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he can choose to go either the one way or the other.
A biblical characteristic of God is that he often waits to see what people will do. Have you noticed in Genesis 1 that God does not pronounce human beings to be good? Through the preceding “days” of creation God repeatedly recognizes the goodness of what he has made. But there is no such statement after he makes human beings. It is as if he is withholding his judgment. He needs to wait and see—or perhaps not “needs” but “wants.” God is interested in us, in how we unfold as characters—interested in what sort of characters we will turn out to be.
God’s waiting is related to his patience. God has a lot of patience with us. Whatever we do, he keeps open the possibility that this story we are in will turn out to be a good story. In contrast with God, Cain is impatient and he kills his brother. God then calls him to account and tells him he will have to start a different kind of life; he can no longer be a farmer. But this is not punishment, I think, in the usual sense; God is merely laying out the consequences of Cain’s act. Then God promises to be with Cain in his future, to protect him, to defend him from anyone who would harm him. God, we could say, remains interested in how Cain will turn out, keeps a door open for Cain to do well rather than ill.
And so with us. Whatever our past has been, God remains interested in seeing what our walking will be like. He wants us to act with good character, to walk in a way that pleases him. He never forecloses final judgment upon us; final judgment awaits the final end. Until then he keeps a door open. He is patient. He waits. He is interested in what we are going to do.
Out & About. Have you been reading The Hobbit lately? On a recent road trip I listened to a reading by Rob Inglis. I found there’s more there than I remembered, and that it is interesting to think of it in terms of a world in which people walked. We’ll discuss it at the September 18 seminar “Good Books & Good Talk” at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. You are welcome to join us.
On the Web. The Human Life Review posted my pastoral reflection “To Change the World.” You can find it here.