As we continue our look at the story of Cain and Abel, something else stands out to me. What strikes me is the response of Cain to his punishment. After murdering his brother, God confronts Cain. And God tells him that, because of what he’s done, he’s cursed from the ground. He tells Cain that, when he works the ground, it will no longer yield to him its strength. He will now be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.
If we’re to understand this punishment, we must remember what Cain did for work. He was a worker of the ground. He was a farmer. And now, because of his sin, the ground would no longer produce for him. He would have to wander the earth to find sustenance.
In one sense, this punishment seems very gracious. After murdering his brother in cold blood, after killing Abel due to jealousy, my initial reaction is that God should have taken his life as well. And, in his justice, God could have done just that. However, God allowed him to live and took only Cain’s work. He took only Cain’s ability to produce food from the ground.
Yet, Cain didn’t view it in this way. He didn’t see it as gracious in the least. In his mind, this was an unbearable consequence. He was driven from the ground. And, in his mind, this was the same as being denied God’s blessing.
In addition to this, there was another aspect of his guilt that frightened him. He feared that, as he wandered the earth, he might be put to death by anyone who found him. However, God again showed his grace to Cain by giving him a mark, and by promising that anyone who killed Cain would have vengeance visited on him sevenfold.
Yet, considering his sin and the grace that God had given him, Cain’s response is less than satisfying. It’s less than satisfying because he doesn’t show any remorse for the murder he’d committed. He regrets only the punishment that he must now bear. He complains that his punishment is too great.
As we notice this flaw in Cain’s character, it’s easy for us to look down on him. However, we typically approach God with the very same attitude. Even as we recognize our sin, we act as though the punishment of that sin is too great. We approach God with the attitude that he’s unjust in his judgment.
We saw in the account of the fall the consequences that fell on Adam and Eve. Because they’d sinned, they would now suffer until the day of their death. They were also removed from the garden, that they might not eat from the tree of life and live forever. As we’re clearly told in Scripture, the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Revelation 21:8).
Yet, even though these penalties are the result of our sin, even though we deserve them because of our guilt, we also act as if our punishment is too great. Instead of acknowledging our guilt, instead of acknowledging that we deserve God’s wrath, we accuse him of being too harsh in his judgment.
For example, as we face hardships in this life, we accuse God of being unfair. As we face the loss of a loved one, or as we’re confronted with the inevitability of our own death, we insist that God is unloving. And as we consider the eternal consequence of our sin, as we consider an eternity in hell for those who haven’t received God’s grace, we complain that it’s a cruel sentence.
As we consider Cain’s punishment, it’s fair to say that he deserved everything he got. In fact, God could have dealt with him in a way that was even more severe and been perfectly just in doing so. And the same is true of us.
God could have destroyed Adam and Eve at the moment of their sin, and would have been right in his judgment. God could send us all to hell at this very moment and it would be a proper judgment. God could have issued his sentence, withholding the grace that’s found in Jesus, and it would be perfectly fair.
Yet, just as we see in the case of Cain, in spite of our sin, in spite of the punishment we deserve, God has given us his grace. He sent Jesus into the world to bear the penalty of our sin. And he offers his forgiveness and mercy to all who receive Jesus in faith. He has offered us something that we do not deserve because of his great love for us, and because he desires our salvation.