Ever since the first murder of Abel by his brother Cain, sinful man has sought sinful, autonomous ways to atone for his own guilt, while at the same time raging against God by assaulting his fellow man, God's image-bearer.
In his brilliant presentation and defence of evangelical faith, A Practical View of Christianity, William Wilberforce, arguably the most important of the evangelical founders and heir of the Puritans, wrote of the human condition since the Fall:
How is the gold become dim and the fine gold changed? How is his reason clouded, his affections perverted, his conscience stupefied! How do anger, and envy, and hatred, and revenge, spring up in his wretched bosom! How is he a slave to the meanest of appetites! What fatal propensities does he discover to evil! What inaptitude to good!
This condition did not take long ages to develop in man’s heart. Cain was the first child born to humanity, the result of the first amazing pregnancy, but instead of being the deliverer it seems Adam and Eve expected, he became the first murderer – and it was murder in the first, it was premeditated. He spoke to his brother Abel and when they were in the field, ‘Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him’ (Gen. 4: 8).
Cain had not sought atonement and justification by blood sacrifice to God (indicating the just penalty of death for sin and need for an innocent victim to pay the price), rather, he had sought it in self-justification. Rejecting God’s gentle admonishment and finding himself unable to strike directly at God for having no regard for his presumptuous oblation, he lashes out indirectly, by killing his righteous brother Abel.
This ancient event helps us to see the critical point – that our murderous culture, in its penchant for killing the unborn and euthanizing the sick, is at its core a theological and not political problem. The root of murder (amongst many urges to destroy) is sinful self-will and the desire for self-justification. The desire to assert one’s own way over God’s, to strike at God’s image-bearer, and to attack the righteous, lies behind state-sanctioned murder. This is why God’s people have so often been the target of the hatred and rage of sinful man in their opposition to evil, because they remind man of God, and represent God. But since man cannot strike directly at God, he will seek to smite his children.
This desire to strike at God is basic to all sinful people – it is essential to sinful man’s psychology. Central to Cain’s mindset was his enmity with God. As Cornelius Van Til has put it, the Cainitic wish is that ‘there is no God.’ Thus Cain’s murder of Abel was actually an expression of his desire to kill God – Abel happened to be his righteous representative and was in easy reach.
Fallen man, when pressed to self-consciousness, hates the living God and his requirement for atonement and so is possessed of the ‘Cain complex,’ believing that by rationalizing his sin away, and striking at God’s image, he can be free from guilt and justify himself. The biblical teaching that fallen man needs blood atonement as a sinner is insulting foolishness to him – he believes he can and must justify himself over against God and so liberate himself from the guilt that torments him.
Consequently, the sons of Cain who ‘go the way of Cain’ seek, wherever possible, to eliminate every trace of the living God from reality. However, since man himself is God’s image-bearer this murderous urge requires the destruction of that image. This self-elimination he is ready to do, not only by killing his brother in the womb and on his sick bed, but by redefining or reconstructing what man is as his own god and maker. Man must define himself out of existence as God’s creature (made male and female), and re-invent himself with multiple gender identities in terms of pagan androgyny, thereby killing man as man to justify his sin to himself – and our educationalists are pursuing this course.
If man is God’s creature and image bearer, then, decrees the rebel, his image must be blotted out, and God’s definition of evil must become the new good. And if evil is good and man is not man, sin and guilt do not exist and God is dead to us. Thus, the motive force of self-justification seeks the murder of God and the death of man as man.
Just recently, Canada’s Supreme Court, possessed of a Cainitic mind, has unanimously lifted the historic ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia, declaring the protection of life in this fashion, ‘unconstitutional,’ reversing the same court’s decision of 1993. What has changed in those intervening twenty years about the sanctity of life, or our duty to protect innocent life by not legally murdering our brother under the guise of compassion and mercy? All that has progressed here is man’s self-conscious enmity against God, expressed in the intensification of the Cain complex, now endorsed by the courts. State-controlled and funded medical practitioners in Canada will soon be legally killing the citizenry in the name of mercy, further striking at God by asserting a total freedom from Him, and the right to decide whose life is worth living.
Cain therefore remains a critical lesson for us and our murderous culture. In denying atonement, and by not accepting God’s word and rebuke, Cain set about justifying himself, by striking at God through killing the righteous. He wanted to ‘secure space’ to continue in his rebellion and Abel represented a living rebuke of his sin and reminder of his guilt. The apostle John decisively warns us, ‘We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you’ (1 John 3:13).
In an important sense, then, Abel was a victim of sadism (a form of self-atonement) – he was the only scapegoat for Cain’s rage against God. Cain laid the punishment for his own sins on Abel in an effort to justify himself. This is the theological and spiritual source of the modern revolutionary attack on the biblical view of man, life, the family and the church – it is man’s self-justifying attempt to eliminate the living God. Western society has gone the way of Cain.
Despite deserving death, God has mercy on Cain and does not take his life. Yet Cain’s response is only to complain and whine about his punishment (Gen. 4:13-14). The murderer objects that he is now unjustly victimized by his exile from the ground and moreover, is afraid that someone will kill him!
Instead of coming to God in repentance, Cain is filled with self-pity, and with a masochistic urge to be cast out and oppressed. Rather than sorrow for the callous murder of his brother and the grief of his parents and siblings, all he can do is wallow in self-pity! Ridden with guilt he wanted to feel hurt, oppressed and cast out. He is not driven from God’s presence, but leaves of his own choice and declares himself to be driven away and hidden from God’s face (Gen. 4:16).
Those who go the way of Cain, despite their sin and evil, will often agitate and demonstrate and aggravate others into action to indulge their own sense of persecution, so that the offender can claim to be an oppressed victim or victim group. Self-pity has always marked man as a sinner and so the offender, Cain, nonetheless claims to be the offended! Thus sinful man in our time continues to claim that he is the victim and God the sinner.
The way of Cain is hard. It begins with autonomous human reasoning, pride and rebellion, over against submitting to God’s revelation and calling. It progresses into self-justification and self-pity and produces a murderous heart that seeks to strike at God and all that he represents. It leads only to guilt, fear and a restless wandering of heart and mind, a groundless existence without inheritance or true Sabbath. The way of Cain must be rejected. Our call is to stand in faith with Abel (Heb. 11:4) and trust in the one whose blood speaks better things (Heb. 12:24).