One of the best parts of tackling a new movie is trying to understand its beginning. In a race to capture the quick-to-click viewer modern filmmakers often pack unsettling questions into their openings to grab the audience. The puzzled and perplexed viewer is drawn into the rest of the movie because he needs the remaining pieces. The questions compel us to keep watching to find the filmmaker’s answers to these questions. Of course, he never answers all of our questions in the rest of the film, but he does answer the questions that are at the heart of his story’s message. Delayed and unanswered questions leave us grasping for more as we also strain for another handful of popcorn. We’re hooked.
The Bible’s opening also offers its reader far more questions than answers for this very same reason. If you want the answers, you must keep reading. For example, the shocking turn of events away from a perfect life in God’s presence into a bitter and painful exile apart from Him obliges the reader to ask many questions which the rest of the Torah — and the Bible — most assuredly answer. Genesis 4, therefore, begins a very careful explanation of Genesis 1–3 that shakes and shapes our world today.
Genesis 4’s chief question, however, is simply “Where will God be while I walk in this fallen world?” The author Moses answers this question by overturning expectations. God speaks to the worst of man, even the reader, on His own terms and in His own way. Our exile from Him is not His exile from us. God’s voice penetrates our broken world. He is there, and He is there by His word.
While Moses leaves out many details of this first family’s life in Genesis 4, he intentionally focuses us upon God’s interaction with Cain. Surprisingly, the author leaves us no conversation between God and Abel, which most assuredly occurred. Instead, we find the author directing us to God’s talk with Cain, the failed worshiper and the murderer. That is, God speaks to man, and He does so that man might find life.
(6) And the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face so low? If you do well, will it not be lifted? (7) If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. You are sin’s desire, and you must rule it!”
The rejection of Cain’s worship centers not on a mechanical or procedural aspect of the sacrifice. It is a warning … to the reader. The author teaches us that the heart of the matter is the heart of the matter. That is, the author warns us that true worship of God must come from a heart completely devoted to God (Deut 6:4–5). All else falls short. He warns us, in other words, that we fall short. We are Cain. Indeed, we are the ones who need to know that God is speaking with us against our sin and despite our sin for our good.
A simple paradigm echoes Genesis 1–3 and reverberates throughout all of the Bible through Genesis 4: God mediates His presence and life with man by His word. This written word, the Bible, conveys who God is, who we are, and salvation in Messiah to all readers who will open its pages. God speaks to Cain that He might speak to us. We are not abandoned.
After his murder of Abel, and his rejection of God’s inquiry for Abel’s state, the Lord speaks yet again to Cain and to us.
(10) “What have you done? It is the sound of the blood of your brother that is crying out to me from the ground. (11) And now you are cursed from the ground that opened its mouth to take the blood of your brother from your hand. (12) For you will serve the ground. It will not again give its strength to you. It is a wanderer and stumbler that you will be in the land.
God’s judgment of Cain also warns the reader, even the rest of humanity. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight in this fallen world. God’s word answers sin and conveys sin’s wages through Cain’s fate: a miserable, slow dying that ends in death. It is a word to us, the readers, so that we might understand the consequences of our own sin. Life will be hard, justice will be slow, but God and His word will be there with us. This judgment is not the end of his story because we see that this same word protects and sustains Cain while we wait for the rest of the Scriptures to answer even more questions of his life and our lives in a fallen world.
The obvious questions about Cain’s possible repentance (and the sign that follows for his protection) propel us to keep reading further in the Torah, to seek answers and to hook us into the full counsel of God. While scholars debate whether Cain repented, it is clear that God’s word of judgment seeks one goal: the changing of Cain’s heart. And, therein lies the union of God’s judgment and mercy. Both intend to bring life. They are purposefully linked in a fallen world. He desires to be good to man and to give him life out of death by drawing his heart to repentance.
We are not alone; we have God’s word. A genuine believer reveals his life with God by listening to the Scripture and its humbling depictions of our hearts in light of God’s perfection. Sitting under the biblical text prompts us to keep asking questions about life that only the cross answers. The Spirit transforms the questioning of the story into real life. He hooks us, draws us, and seals us to walk with Him as He also brings forward even more questions of God, man and salvation – so that our joy in the Savior might increase. The arm of the Scripture is not too short to save. No popcorn needed.