As we continue looking at the Genesis story with the eye of a meekonomist the next instance that is drawn out is the battle between Cain and Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. ”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.[Gensis 4:3-6]
I’ m not going to get into a discussion of why Cain’s offering was less pleasing to God than Abel’s, I’ll leave that to the theologians who make it their business to understand such things. Personally I don’t see anything at all in the text that can be interpreted as an explanation for God’s preference, it’s just stated as fact so I believe we are to take it as fact and move on, it’s just not the point of the story. Just like my favorite color happens to be red so God prefers meat, no reason that’s just the way it is, deal with it.
The point of the story is that Cain was disappointed when God looked with more favor on Abel’s offering and rather than go to the source and ask God why, he allowed envy and jealousy to lead him down the path of destruction.
I find it interesting that the very first sin committed by mankind after the expulsion from the garden, after the rejection of God’s Perfect Economy, is a sin of jealousy born of a desire for God’s acceptance. Just one generation after their parents rejected God’s plan and said they would rather decide for themselves what is right and wrong both Cain and Abel are trying once again, like fickle children to gain God’s favor. When one succeeds, the other, rather than learn from what his brother did right become’s jealous and kills him.
In a worldly economy, envy and jealously are powerful motivators. They feed on our ruler nature. Mankind as ruler leaves no room for anyone else to rule or be successful other than you. As we have seen, in God’s Perfect Economy the ruler nature is counterbalanced by our caretaker nature and our acceptance of God’s ultimate leadership but when Adam and Eve rejected that leadership a war broke out within ourselves. That war is fueled in part by envy and jealousy.
Webster defines envy as a “painful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” Envy itself is not the sin that caused Cain to kill his brother. Being aware, even a painfully of someone else’s advantage over yours and a desire for the same is not a bad thing. This kind of awareness can and often does lead to great progress if put to positive use. The market economy to which we are so in tune is an economy that is very aware of other’s advantage. It’s when envy meets its cousin jealousy that bad things happen.
Jealousy is defined as being “hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.” In the end jealousy seeks to destroy that which it cannot control, it tears down rather that builds up and the result is a society that is weakened not only by the loss of something great but by the misdirected energies of the jealous individual.
When Cain became angry over Abel’s apparent advantage it was a result of his working through his feelings of envy but he had not yet sinned. God came to him and gave him a choice. You can learn from this experience, you can do what is right or you can give in to sin. You can allow your envy to motivate you to do better next time, or you can allow it to morph into jealousy.
We all know what happened next but what would have happened if Cain had listened to God?
The counter balance to jealousy is gratitude which is defined as “appreciative of benefits received.” So if Cain had stopped for a second and been appreciative of the benefits he had received he may have been able to pull himself out of his envy and jealousy and move forward in a much more positive light. But Cain didn’t receive any benefits you say? Oh contraire my friends, he received possibly one of the greatest benefits anyone could receive, he received a private audience and instruction from God, not even Abel, the so called favored brother got that opportunity.
And what did God instruct? If you do what is right you will be accepted, if not sin will rule over you.
Here’s a man consumed by his ruler mentality trying to find ways to rule over everything and everyone, including his own brother, feelings of envy and jealously boiling just beneath the surface being reminded by his creator the he is not the be all and end all of the world. God is saying; hang on Cain, I’m God not you. By telling Cain to do what is right God is subtly reminding him that his parents already went down this path and look what happened to them. If Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (right and wrong) Cain would have no comprehension of what God means by “right”. But he does know and rather than being grateful for the reminder he gives in to his ruler mentality and so becomes ruled by sin.
In recent years many business leaders have started to note that gratitude is one of the traits that many of the most successful people demonstrate. Gratitude is one of those traits, along with humility that is viewed by the general public as having an air of nobility. A healthy dose of gratitude is required in order to keep people from become too impressed with their own accomplishments. A grateful person is more aware that while they may be rulers over large domains, have influence over a segment of society, they didn’t get there on their own, they had a lot of help and are really just stewards of something that came before.
Think of a turtle sitting on the top of a fence post. When you see a turtle on a fence post you immediately know one thing about him; he had help. As always you have a choice. You can congratulate the turtle on his success in climbing the fence post and asking him for some advice on how you too can do the seemingly impossible. You can then be thankful for any advice the turtle can give you or you can allow envy and jealousy to set in and become bitter over the fact that a turtle has no business sitting on top of a fence post. If you happen to be that turtle you can humbly acknowledge that deep down you know you have no business sitting and fence posts and thank all the people who helped you along the way. Or you can allow yourself to believe that somehow you are a superior turtle that has figured out the art of climbing vertical pillars and bid everyone to look at how awesome you are all the while deluding yourself into thinking that you can fly!