Does God love everyone?
Have you ever asked it deep in your soul? Does God really love me? Does God love the whole world? If you've ever had children, you understand a little of that kind of Father-child love that we equate with God. You may also know how quickly the dynamics change when your family begins to grow. Firstborns get all of the love and attention of everyone from parents to grandparents and every relative and friend thereafter. But bring home the second child and you suddenly introduce competition and sharing and while you may end up with a great bond like a band of brothers or sisters, it's going to take work and patience to teach the children to co-exist and get along.
Imagine having the firstborn son ever born. The Bible doesn't tell us how long after Adam and Eve were forced out of the Garden that they had their first child, but by all accounts, Cain was born outside of Eden, after sin entered the world. During that time, the family still knew God, even talked to God. I get the impression from the text in Genesis that God still interacted with Adam's family in an audible-voice way. Perhaps He no longer appeared in physical form to them, but they heard Him speak.
I also believe, based on the gifts Cain and Abel brought later as offerings to the Lord, that God had given Adam some type of knowledge of what would one day become the Law of Moses. Perhaps it was only verbally given, but they knew about sacrifices and that life was in the blood.
Regardless of how they knew, Cain and Abel were aware that it was good and right to bring offerings to God. So Abel, keeper of the flocks, brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Cain, worker of the soil, brought some of the fruit of the soil.
I used to think that it was what they brought that caused the problem for Cain. After all, if this was meant to be an offering for sin, God required blood sacrifice, which meant that of a clean animal such as a bull or lamb or goat or certain birds. But later on God introduced the offering of first fruits, celebrated on the third day of Passover, which, of course, had not happened yet. But the idea of giving to God of the first of the harvest believing He would provide more to come, was an offering of trust and could have been given before the law.
Whatever the case, Cain didn't follow directions very well. If he was supposed to bring a sin offering, then offering God some fruit wasn't going to cut it. Fruit doesn't cover sin. If it was an offering of first fruits, of trust, then he still missed the mark because the text says he brought some. Not his best. Just some.
If you read on, you know that God accepted Abel's offering. Abel had been listening and did things as God had prescribed. Cain either wasn't listening or didn't care, so God did not accept Cain's offering.
What would you have said if you brought something to God and He said, "No. Unacceptable." I can imagine all manner of emotions that would wash over me. Hurt perhaps. Why questions. Anger?
Anger. That was Cain's immediate response. In fact the text says he was "Very angry and his face was downcast." He wore his feelings in his expression - just in case God couldn't read his mind and heart, which He could.
So God said, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?"
Ah! All Cain had to do was what was right. He knew better. He chose not to do the right thing and then got mad about it when God didn't accept him. Yet God even gave him another chance.
"But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” In other words, "Listen, Cain, I can see your heart and I know that sin is lurking. It wants to control you. You've already given into this temptation to disobey. You have a choice whether to keep going down this path or turn around and win over this temptation." (Jill's paraphrase)
Keep reading in Genesis 4 and you know what Cain decided. And his actions caused him pain and distance from God that he really didn't want. He didn't want to be hidden from God's presence (part of his later punishment). But his choices led him there.
But the question the offerings raised in my mind was, "Did God love Cain?"
Does God really love the whole world?
Some might think that if God loves, as the Bible tells us He does, then God also accepts. Everyone loves the idea of "God is love." And "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..." We want to believe that in the end God's love trumps everything and that a loving God would never send anyone to hell (away from His presence) or hurt anyone, right?
But that's not what this story teaches us. Yes, God loved Cain. God loves the whole world. God wanted Cain to do what was right. To bring an acceptable offering. Instead, Cain brought some. Not his best. His heart wasn't in the giving. He didn't want to surrender himself or his will or his choices to God's will and choices. Like all of us, he struggled with that ancient desire of not wanting anyone to tell us what to do. We want to follow our own wisdom, not God's. And yet somehow we want to be accepted.
God didn't accept Cain's offering. God gave him the chance to go back and do what was right. Instead, Cain let his anger boil over into rage against the brother who was accepted. And he paid a hefty price for his actions.
But the text does not say that Cain repented. Not even then. He complained about his punishment, but he didn't humble himself and turn from that sin that was crouching at his door waiting to rule over him. So like us, yes?
The question remains even today - does God love everyone? The answer is a resounding YES.
Does God accept everyone just the way we are? Thankfully, NO.
Why thankfully? Because if everything we ever do or did was acceptable to God (even murder in Cain's case), then we could never be with Him now and eternally. Jesus' coming would have made no difference to us.
But Jesus did come, and He came preaching repentance. He gave His life in love for us.
There was a cost involved for him to do that - and there is a cost for us to accept it. More on that next time.