Friday, January 14, 2011

Desire of violence lurking at the door

I think all of us have been thinking some about violence and anger this week.  There is not necessarily anything wrong with anger.  It can be a basic, healthy emotion, and an important element for bringing about positive social transformation.  The Cain and Abel story (Genesis 4), one of the primeval narratives that comprise the first eleven chapters of Genesis, captures the very human theme of crossing the line from anger to violence.
After God approves of Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's, Cain becomes very angry and his countenance falls.  God asks Cain why he is angry and warns him that sin is lurking at his door.  I think I can understand why Cain got angry.  In verses 4 and 5, the story doesn't explain why Abel's sacrifice is accepted and Cain's not.  Many interpreters read God's words in verse 7, "if you do well, will you not be accepted?" into the narrative gap to explain that Cain must have done something bad that his offering was not accepted.  I think that rips up the story, though.  God's acceptance of Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's is put as a simple matter of fact; as if to say some folks sometimes have favor and sometimes not.  God's favor may be a bit capricious that way.  But this doesn't mean God has rejected Cain, just his sacrifice, and just this time.  Whose sacrifice God will accept may be different next time.
I think Cain's disappointment and anger fester into violence because, as the text says, "sin is lurking at the door, its desire is for you."  In other words, Cain equates his self worth with the value of his sacrifice.  This is the wisdom of this narrative.  Human society excites us into equating our self worth with every other kind of sacrifice but our own striving to simply "do well," in other words be good human beings.  The commodification of humanity lets in the desire for violence that is always lurking at our door.   

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