Cain was troubled. He was deeply troubled. He was the older brother. He worked the land. He kept to his business and his brother Abel kept to his business of tending the flocks. And then there was the day that both Cain and Abel presented their offerings to the Lord. And God preferred Abel’s offering.
Now, nowhere in the Bible does it tell us why God preferred Abel’s offering. Maybe the Lord was just in the mood for meat that day. Nowhere does it say that Cain’s offering was inferior. Nowhere does it say that Abel’s heart was purer. All it says is that the Lord preferred Abel’s offering. But that was the start of everything.
After that, Cain was sullen. He was moody. He wouldn’t talk about it. God wanted him to talk about it. God asked him about it. Right there in Genesis 4:6-7 God asks Cain why he’s angry, and tells him that if he doesn’t talk about it and just broods, trouble is waiting. God knows these things. Cain wouldn’t talk.
Then Cain, who was angry at his brother, set out to kill his brother. The first murder. Brother against brother. He lured Abel out into the field, and he killed him there.
Now Cain clearly knew what he had done was wrong, because he tried to hide from God. The thing is, you can’t hide from God. And then he tried to lie to God. That doesn’t work especially well, either.
Well, God has to deal with this. God tells Cain that the earth will no longer yield to him, and that he will be a wanderer. Cain is terrified, and tells the Lord that wherever he goes, people will try to harm him, but the Lord tells Cain that they won’t. The Lord puts a mark on Cain – the mark of Cain – as a warning to others – that they may not harm him. Only the Lord could pass judgement and mete out punishment.
No, this story didn’t literally happen. That’s not the point. It’s in the Bible because this problem, this brother problem, this problem of humanity, has been around…forever. It’s in the Bible because we need to learn from it. Because people still feel slighted and then deal with it by killing. And then we have to figure out as a society how we deal with that.
The authorities, it seems, have caught the man who allegedly killed my friend Ross Reisner. He was armed and in a house in Tennessee. Another friend posted this on Facebook, and several of us have shared the story. And of course, people have been posting comments.
There is anger. There is sadness. There is some relief. Some people want vengeance. Oh, that vengeance thing. So first, I need to say that I begrudge no one his or her feelings. The feelings we have are the feelings we have. We are entitled to them, and I really hate it when one person tells another “you shouldn’t feel that way,” or “don’t feel that way,” or “you should be [fill in emotion here].” No one can dictate another person’s emotions.
I understand wanting vengeance. Wanting and exacting are different things, though. We have to decide as a society if we want to be in the business of exacting vengeance, or if we would rather set our sights on reform.
Personally, I oppose the death penalty. I tell you this, and I will also tell you that there are some people in this world whom I would not at all miss. This is why we agree to live by rules in society, I think. We don’t get to exact our own revenge. We determine, as a society, what is right.
So now, in the case of my friend Ross’s murder, what is right? It appears that the assailant is mentally ill. How ill? I don’t know. Does that make a difference? Should it?
We make a big stink about people getting their hands on guns, and I do think that’s a problem, but I think that spending so much time talking about that is an easy way to avoid a bigger issue. How can we get people the mental health care they need? What if this man had gotten appropriate mental health care? Would my friend still be alive? What if we stopped stigmatizing mental illness? Would people seek the care they needed then?
This man can’t be allowed to roam the streets freely. He’s dangerous. Locking him up now may protect some people in the future, but it won’t bring Ross back. Getting him help, getting him well again might be a mercy, but it won’t bring Ross back. It might help the man to have remorse, but it won’t change the past.
I don’t have all the answers. I know which way I lean. The Bible tells us that this is in God’s hands. I’d prefer that we as humans would focus on rehabilitation and leave the punishment to God. This doesn’t seem to be how we function. I wonder, though, if anyone will find peace in this. I pray it will be so.
- Man arrested in probe of Ross Reisner slaying (newsday.com)
- So Much Loss (thewidowsmiteyblog.wordpress.com)