Define Brother, Hatred, Keeper and “Is.”
Anger just below the boiling point can’t be contained indefinitely – it finds expression one way or another and in human behavior that expression is uniformly evil. Cain let his anger toward his brother fester, he fed it while he nursed his hurt, he told himself that his brother had cheated him and embarrassed him to an unacceptable degree. Facts are a complication to us when we are hurt and angry, feelings and impressions rule our minds and feed our sense of outrage. Why let facts ruin a perfectly good tirade of self-pity? He didn’t! He fed it until it boiled and ruined lives: His brother was dead and could not be brought back to life; Cain was less of a man from that point on.
God noticed Abel was missing. “Cain, where is your brother Abel?”
“How would I know?” Cain replied, “I’m not his keeper!”
“What have you done? Listen! I can hear your brother’s blood crying out to me from the ground.”
What he thought would never be known was brought to his attention as God called him to give account of his brother. He applied the rules of accountability in his defense.
First rule of accountability: denial of knowledge (claim ignorance of all facts.) He tried it but it didn’t work so he applied the second rule.
Second rule of accountability: limit the scope of responsibility, try to disclaim all accountability and lay the blame on the victim. “I’m not his keeper!”
The third rule: negotiate consequences – if you can’t escape the consequences can you at least negotiate them down (a.k.a. plea bargaining.) Cain did that too.
Cain got busted for premeditated, cold-blooded murder. His problem was not his failure to protect his brother; it was his intentional action to harm Abel that was the problem. Of course in that circumstance the clear answer to, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a resounding “Yes!” “Yes, Cain, you are responsible to protect your brother by resolving your anger and refusing to let the crouching demon of sin establish mastery over you.”
Jesus raised the bar on this issue of accountability when he equated hating another person with murder; they are points on the same scale, separated by mere degrees. We’ve struggled more with this concept ever since. One of our favorite pastimes has been ruled illegal, forcing us to search for justification for our not-so-healthy relationships. It’s not easy keeping envy and hatred out of our minds!
There’s another whole stream of struggle for us emanating from the account of Cain and Abel: who exactly is my brother and how far do I have to go to protect him?
The Genesis account has specific application to blood brothers who are absolutely required to protect each other from themselves. Each must do whatever is required to bring only good to his sibling; each must exert self-discipline to control his thoughts and attitudes and to act consistently with fostering the welfare of his brother.
We are probably comfortable extending that same principle to siblings in the family of faith – other believers – and this seems a suitable extension. But how much wider should we go? Is this a mandate to be the keeper of all of humanity? Is this what God requires of us?
What happens when we try to assume responsibility for the actions of others (who are beyond our control and circle of influence?) Can we really do that? Are there any limits to how far we should go and what action we can take to protect the innocent?
If we are to extend this principle, does it rule out violent acts to defend our “brother” – is military intervention on behalf of the oppressed consistent with this principle or in conflict with it? What happens when the action involved in keeping one brother leads me into conflict with another?
Are there limits to “Am I my brother’s keeper?” How far does the responsibility extend and are there any limits on the action I must take? Is this a call to look at ourselves – the motivation and consequences of the things we do – or is it a universal call to be responsible for any and everyone else?
Who is my brother?
Posted on December 20, 2011, in Active faith and tagged accountability, Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel, controlling anger, God, guilt, hatred, personal responsibility. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.