Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wandering (a curse?)

When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Gen 4:12)

This curse on Cain is a terrible one, one that reflects the gravity of sin. Cain brought it upon himself. His life was a graphic display of the extent of sin. Selfishness, jealousy, murder and defiance. The question I will address in this blog is: "Is wandering a bad thing?" Is it too harsh of God to impose such a sentence on Cain? My quick answer is no. God has a purpose when he tells Cain to be a nomad. Unfortunately, Cain bit the hand, over and over again. A hand that offered him hope and an opportunity to turn over a new leaf.

Cain’s Life of Defiance
His selfish desire to keep some of his produce to himself made his offering a lesser one compared to his brother Abel, who gave ‘fat portions’ to the LORD (Gen 4:3-4). Instead of learning from his mistake, Cain became ‘very angry’ and ‘his face was downcast’ with the LORD’s treatment of him (Gen 4:5). Cain behaved as if the LORD is the one who is supposed to take-it-or-leave-it. He wanted the LORD to accept his offering on his own terms. It is like whatever Cain gives, the LORD should equally accept regardless of the quantities or intent of the givers. It is like a 'beggars cannot be choosers' kind of an attitude toward God. It was Cain who was born first, and he was the first to give an offering to the LORD. Yet, the first-mover advantage for Cain was overshadowed by his inadequate willingness in his heart to give. He failed to honour the LORD fully. His offering was eclipsed by Abel, due largely to his inner heart's attitude of not willing to honour God, the giver of all produce and life. He lacked the faith that the LORD is looking for. His jealousy turned into dangerous covetousness leading to an unrighteous form of anger. The NASB records Cain as being ‘very angry’ that leads to a crestfallen disposition. Immediately the LORD addressed Cain, asking him why he is so angry and downcast. He gave Cain advice to control his anger, and not allow sin to dominate his life. Interestingly, God’s conversation with Abel is unrecorded. Instead, Gen 4:1-16 is a recurring series of events about Cain and his rebellion against the LORD.

  • The LORD looked on Abel’s offering with favour and Cain rebelled with anger.
  • The LORD asked Cain to control his sin, but Cain allows sin to lead him to commit murder. He murdered Abel in cold blood.
  • The LORD inquired of Cain about the whereabouts of Abel. Cain rebelled with a smut comment: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Such defiant behaviour revealed the rebellious steak in Cain.
  • The LORD banished Cain to be a vagrant and wanderer. Cain rebels again by ‘settling down’ at the East of Eden. Worse, he built a city as an open defiance against the LORD (Gen 4:17). Called to be a wanderer, to be constantly on the move, Cain rebels by sinking his roots in one place, refusing to move.
  • Cain called the city he built after a human person, his son. This is in contrast to the way that Abraham names his cities and places, which is related to God’s name or to praise God. Such defiance is preposterous.
The list is depressing. At each point, we see the LORD giving Cain a chance to repent, but repeatedly, Cain wants to be lord over his own life, thinking that God should bow down to his wishes. Interestingly, Cain’s son ‘Enoch’ also means ‘city.’ It is the ultimate mark of defiance that he refuses to obey his calling to be a wanderer, but makes his place defiantly at a single location. Like blood getting clogged in one place, the fresh flow of blood to the rest of the body is curtailed. There is a reason for Cain to be on the move all the time. This is a way to prevent sin from crouching at his door and making inroads into his life. Yet, Cain refuses to repent from the multiple opportunities presented to him by God. He simply insists on his own ways and subsequently led to the devastation in the form of the great flood. Dr Bruce Waltke says: “He will be a nomad without home and security,” which aptly verbalizes Cain’s condition. Instead of continuing a nomad life until the LORD says otherwise, Cain draws his own conclusions and assumes control of his own destiny, instead of obeying God. God wants him to remain a wanderer until sin is no longer crouching at his doorstep. Instead, Cain wants to remain in the city, and entertains sin by inviting sin into his life and household.

Wandering in Christ
Here, there is a lesson on what faith entails. Faith is trusting God to reveal the next step to us, as we obey what has been clearly communicated to us. We do not presume God’s next step. Our next step is being faithful to what has been given us, until otherwise stated. When God gives us instructions, even harsh ones, he has our ultimate renewal and blessing in mind. He wants us to trust him, and not the world. He wanted a long-term relationship built on faith and trust, rather than a short-term fling that is erected on lust and worldliness. Wandering includes an element of running away from sins. I recall Paul’s instruction to Timothy that says:

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim 2:22)

Unfortunately, Cain allowed his rebellious attitude to be personified into a city-like monumental challenge to God’s garden of Eden. By building a city on the East side of Eden, it is a work of confrontation against the rule of God. Being human, all of us have a wandering spirit. It is important not to see it as something that is all-bad. Instead, we must see the purpose of being a wanderer. It is not for the sake of restlessness for the sake of restlessness. It is not to become a nomad because God likes us to be aimless in life. It is for the sake of avoiding sin. It is to run away from sin as much as possible. It is an effort to be holy, a lifeline of spirituality for us to be holy once more, sanctified for God. Jesus Christ came to earth and wanders around from place to place. People tried to hold on to him, but he was quick to avoid being crowned and institutionalized in a single location. He would have been crowned king of the Jews in Jerusalem, but he chose to walk according to where the Spirit of God leads him. Obedience is greater than the desire to settle in one place. For Jesus knows that sin is always crouching at the door. He said that to Peter. He knows the danger. He experiences and triumphs over the temptations. In Christ, we no longer need to wander around aimlessly. We wander around in Christ. We wander along with the presence and companionship of the Holy Spirit. We become pilgrims on the journey of holiness. Do not adopt Cain-like defiance in our wandering. Do not even settle at being Abel-like in our giving. Become Christ-like in our obeying. Then we shall say to God in Christ:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (2 Tim 4:7)

In a nutshell, when we wander about, in all our restlessness, use it as an opportunity to run away from sin, toward the open arms of God. That said, wandering no longer becomes a curse, but an opportunity to embrace God.


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