(continued…) We do not know much about Cain, but you do know quite a bit about yourself, and so now apply this lesson to your own life. Do you think you would be qualified to make such a comparison between you and any other person on earth, no matter how well you know them, and decide who was more favored by God and more blessed? You might see somebody with more money, but you may know nothing of their battle with depression. You might see somebody with all kinds of friends, but you may know nothing of their family troubles. You might see somebody that is younger than you are and already retired, but you may know nothing of the health problems they are facing. You might see someone that really does have it all, but having it all is sometimes the very worst thing that can happen to a person. Jealousy is such an foolish position to take on anything because one never has enough information to make a valid comparison. Never. You might be glad to trade places with someone’s savings account, but you would not want to have to take their bad heart along in on the deal. You might want to have the athletic ability of your friend at school, but you would not want their home life with their abusive parents. You might envy someone down the street who has a house in Florida and a cabin on Lake Superior, but you might not know that they have a grandchild dying of cancer. If you could bag up all of your troubles and all of your blessings, and could trade the whole bag with anyone else’s bag of everything, you may very well look far and wide before giving up and being content with your own bag woes and joys.
In the story of Cain and Abel we have to pay close attention to what the Bible doesn’t say, because if we look only at what it does say, we might be tempted to accuse God of favoritism. But we don’t have nearly enough information about Cain and Abel, just as we don’t have enough information to judge even our own lives, or make a valid comparison with anyone else’s.
Cain did not have the wisdom to do that. Cain quickly jumped to some ignorant conclusions about God’s fairness and became jealous. God warned Cain to not let his anger get the best of him, even promising future favor and acceptance. But Cain was too angry to hear God, and in a jealous rage went out and killed his brother. Usually jealousy does not lead to murder; but it never does us any good, and it can lead to the loss of joy and even faith. Jealousy can be defined as looking at someone else’s blessings instead of your own, and if you do that too much, you will begin to forget the many ways that God has blessed you, and then, perhaps, even forget all about God.
There is one more thing that the Bible doesn’t say in this story that we need to consider. God speaks to Cain with a warning and with a promise. But God never does explain anything to Cain. God says nothing about why his offering was not accepted. And God isn’t going to tell you either why you have the troubles that you have, and why someone else seems to always have it better. We never get such explanations. But isn’t it interesting that we wonder about these things only in the negative? We often ask during our troubles, ‘why is this happening to me?,’ but we seldom ask that question when all is well. For example, you may well ask why someone else is able to afford more nice things than you, but you are far less likely to ask why you are in better health than most people your age. And either way, we are never given the answer. There is much in life that we are not told, but in this as in all areas, we are told enough, and we are then expected to trust in God for the rest. That is what it means to have faith. We can ask the unanswerable questions like ‘why do I have all these health troubles, family troubles, and financial troubles?,’ and ‘why can’t I have enough money and the good health to do what I want to do?’ Or, instead asking the unanswerable questions, we can go with what the Bible has told us and what we do know– God has given us this life with whatever blessings we have, and he has promised us an eternal life without any of the afflictions that we have here, and he has done this all freely and without any earning or deserving on our part. There is so much more to be grateful for than to be jealous over. Sometimes, in order to understand what a story means, we have to pay attention to what the Bible doesn’t say. But even then, it is still most important to hear what the Bible does say, and the Bible says to give thanks unto the Lord, for the Lord is good, and his mercy endures forever (Psalm 106:1).
Proverbs 14:30 — A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
Exodus 20:17 — You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Psalm 25:4, 5 — Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Almighty God, give us a measure of true religion and thereby set us free from vain and disappointing hopes, from lawless and excessive appetites, from frothy and empty joys, from anxious, self-devouring cares, from an eating envy and swelling pride; so that we may possess that peace which passeth all understanding, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), English philosopher