Silence and the root of anger

The first attempt at speech between humans recorded in the Bible tells us much about anger and sin.

We have seen that the Hebrew Bible begins awkwardly here, that the serpent stumbles in his opening remark to Eve here and that Adam’s first recorded word to the Creator is one of impatience here. Three surprising beginnings. What then of the first human to human interaction?

It’s hard to spot in translation. Adam’s son Abel makes a blood sacrifice to God – which is accepted – whilst his brother Cain makes a fruit sacrifice – which is not. Genesis 4 tells us that Cain blazed (with anger) and God warns him that sin crouches at his door (verses 5-7).

from William Blake's "Cain and Abel"This is the first mention of sin (chattah) in the Bible and sets the scene for the next verse. Verse 8 is typically translated something like “And Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. ”

But a literal translation of the opening of verse 8 is “And said Cain to Abel his brother”. What did he say? The Hebrew leads us to expect a report of what is said. But nothing is said. Instead, Cain murders Abel. The first mention of sin in the Bible lead to the terrible silence when words fail Cain before he kills his brother.

Verse 8 is constructed to draw attention to this. But why didn’t Cain speak? Whatever words one might put in Cain’s mouth, the core of his problem is not a failure of dialogue with Abel, but a problem with God who has not acted as he hoped. Cain had expected a different kind of God, but he can’t change God.

The root of Cain’s sin and anger lies not against Abel but against God. He discovers that God wants a blood sacrifice and Cain – did he intend it so? – provides a terrible one in the blood of Abel.

Like Cain, many are angry against the God of the Bible or reject Him, because He does not suit their world-view.* Yet, as we shall see in later blogs, He expects us to struggle with Him and His disconcerting nature. Silence is not golden.

*The atheist leader Richard Dawkins wants to put the Pope on trial for ‘crimes against humanity’. I suspect his fury is less against those who may have covered up child abuse and more against a God who he would like to see in the dock for ‘crimes against humanity’.

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