The Case for Cain
“Cain smiled then, at no one in particular. There was something like cruelty in it. Cruel, yet beautiful.”
Cruel yet beautiful, that first murderer on the earth. Cain’s brutish fratricide and bitter defiance toward a God who only wanted restoration ring out like a cacophony of madness against the backdrop of the silent antediluvian world. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain spews when God asks him where Abel is, the younger brother Cain has just murdered. Without an impoverished cultural climate or bad parenting to blame, Cain simply envied Abel, then killed him. And because the short narrative found in Genesis 4 is so powerful, Cain has become one of the ultimate villains of our collective consciousness. His story in some form permeates the literature of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. Artists across the centuries have immortalized real and imagined scenes from Cain’s life, and numerous films and books play off the subject of Cain’s fratricide, even an award-winning 1992 documentary, Brother’s Keeper, about an elderly, illiterate Texas man falsely accused of murdering his brother. The issue of murder within family systems reaches deep within us all. Few things strike us as more horrific.
Yet Cain’s story is a cautionary tale. Though Adam’s first son took his string of sins to extreme ends, In Gold in Havilah, my lead character, Akliah, states, “Killing takes many forms.” And after a long and eventful life she reflects that, “We all murder our brother, if not with flint or stone then through slander and the jealous broodings that fester in every heart.” Anyone who has searched her own soul knows that chillingly negative thoughts toward others are, sadly, sometimes part of our human experience.
It makes me wonder: If more of us took to heart that we each have the power of “cruel yet beautiful” and the capacity to either enhance or disrupt the peace around us, the more of that elusive Peace on Earth there might be. What do you think?
Thank you Jean for your thought provoking writing. I am always amazed. Hoping and praying for excellent success with your book!
Looking forward to reading your book Jean. Congratulations on your release!
Thought provoking piece, Jean. If we loved the beautiful to beauty’s origins, to beauty’s source, we would not be cruel and mar the beautiful. The blessings are a gift that bring beauty within reach of a person on this earth, and that includes natural gifts, supply gifts, and divine gifts. While private property is not inherently evil, being unwilling to part with it, to give freely of it, and unwilling to be happy without having as much as the next soul, are lesser marks on the foreheads of people. Not to see being itself as the ultimate value above which no further gifts are needed is a divine state of mind indeed. So easy to forget, but also, with reflection re-discoverable, thank God.
Sometimes I think we are compelled to mar, with that nasty piece within us all. Thanks be to God we are created for better things.
I was correct in thinking this would be the perfect read for our church book club. Not only is there meat to chew on, but a read beautifully written book that feeds one’s soul is a lovely gift from the author to you.
Hope you’ve enjoyed it as a group. The early chapters of Genesis, and what we can speculate about what was happening there, are rich in instruction
Beautiful article. It is amazing to me how we are always just one step away from either becoming the villain or the hero. I can see bits of myself in every character, in every parable. That is why our thoughts and choices absolutely matter, as everything ripples from the inside out, affecting the course of our lives. Well said!
I love this line: “We all murder our brother.” How true that one of “the ultimate villains of our collective consciousness” lives within our individual consciousness. Your telling lends credence to the claim in 1 John 3:15 that “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” It is a frightening thought, but a true one, that whoever hates the beauty of another’s life ultimately hates also his own.
Yes, that’s a wretched reminder. There is the capacity of a Stalin in all of us. All it needs is encouragement.
At my age, I no longer think I have the capacity for “cruel yet beautiful.” I only have the capacity for “cruel and ugly” and I certainly have the capacity for THAT! I can certainly be cruel, in my heart and mind as well as in my words and deeds. When I am, it is simply ugly. I can no longer disguise it with beauty on the outside. I do agree with you that if we all acknowledge our own possibility of cruelty, we might more readily forgive and thereby increase “peace on the earth” around us.
I am in Chapter 3 of Gold and really enjoying it, Jean. Thank you for sharing your gift with us!
Interesting thoughts on the “cruel yet beautiful” clause. In Cain’s case, as in the case of a lot that glitters but isn’t gold, I figure he just looked so good that Akliah didn’t care if she saw cruelty there. People think, They won’t be cruel to me. I’m different.
“Peace on Earth” needs to be so much more than an annual Christmas sentiment. It needs to be a daily goal of every human being. Through small acts of kindness we can bring peace and love to those around us everyday of the year.
You are so right! We think the little things don’t matter, but they do.
I do wonder why Cain felt his only choice was to kill his brother…He must have born such hurt, the need to be recognized and thus envy. Even then evil invaded the world and took away hope and the potential of all he and Able might have been…We all need hope and affirmation and so many hurt because they have taken on shame instead of knowing our worth in God’s heart. I think it is a choice to love “beautifully” and yet, I think to do so, comes from a healed heart of knowing the depth we are loved by our Creator, having gained a measure of some compassion for others through our own experiences.
I am eager to read your book Jean…your writing is beautifully written, inspirational and as has been said, thought provoking.
Thanks for your encouraging words. I thought a lot about Cain’s motives while writing the book, interested, like you, in analyzing what was going on in the guy’s head. But I go back to 1 John 3:12, which makes Cain’s motives pretty basic: “… not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.” Pretty scary.
I thought a lot about this too while writing the book. What was going on in that head, to commit premeditated murder? But then there’s 1 John 3:12, which makes Cain’s motives pretty basic: “not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.”