I have three small boys, and because my wife, Laurin, and I believe in the power of books, we do lots and lots of reading at our house. And because only one of our boys is reading on his own, it’s storytime in our living room several times a day and every night before bedtime.
The thing about reading to three boys, age five and under, is that they don’t really want anything new. They ask to hear the same stories rehearsed again and again, with the same pace, same inflection, and same silly voices. They don’t want to mix things up, not in the slightest. In fact, whenever we get a new book from the library, it usually takes some solid convincing that it’s worth their time. So, to say they know their favorite books by heart would be an understatement.
The most familiar stories in the Bible can be like that. We’ve read them, read about them, and heard them preached so many times, it can seem there’s nothing new to discover. But that’s only how it seems. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read the story of Cain and Abel, but not too long ago, I found myself staring at the page in front of me, reading and rereading a familiar passage: “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6–7).
God knows Cain is plotting to murder his brother, but His response is neither outright condemnation of Cain nor a defense of Abel. Instead, the Lord’s concern is for Cain’s heart. He wants the son of the man He formed out of dirt to rise above the sin lurking within him. God lays it out plain for Cain, saying, in essence, “Sin is out to get you, but you must overpower it!”
When I read what God had to say to Cain in this moment, I’m struck by a few truths. The first is that sin is complicated. God actually personified sin, comparing it to a predator that stalks its prey. Sin is a force, an enemy lying in wait. It’s not neutral, and it’s all around us in this cursed world. We must be on our guard, and as God instructed Cain, we must master it. The second thing I take away from this passage is that the reality of sin does not let us off the hook. Cain was still responsible for his actions, and so are we.
Lastly, I see in God’s concern for Cain an example for us all. You see, every sin has at least two victims—the person sinned against and the sinner. Every sin we commit robs us of our true humanity. We were created to reflect God’s image, and when we break God’s laws and act in ways contrary to His heart, we lose something. Every. Single. Time. That truth ought to be enough to stop us in our tracks when we are tempted, and it ought to fill us with compassion for those who are overcome by the sin crouched at their doors.
Written by John Greco