Why did Cain kill Abel? The answer will set you free.

When we study the story of Cain and Abel, what is our usual reply when considering, “why did Cain kill Abel?” Most often I have heard, “because he was angry” or “because he was jealous”. However, the truth is neither of these reasons are to blame for the source of Cain’s murderous action. There is actually a much deeper problem at the core, and it exists within all humanity.

Cain walks away from Abel after killing him in the field

The Backstory of Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel were the first offspring of Adam and Eve. Apparently, knowledge of God and instructions for offerings to Him were somehow provided to them. Reading the account in Genesis 4, we see that God “had regard” for Abel and his offering. For Cain and his offering, however, God had no regard. This resulted in Cain becoming angry and his “face falling”. This statement simply means that he was scowling. It’s the kind of face you can imagine a person making when they are angry.

God tries to snap Cain out of his anger, but Cain is not willing. Instead, he rises up against Abel is kills him in the field. We don’t know how he did this, but the method is not important. Focus on the detail that mentions God’s “regard” for Abel and his offering, but not for Cain. It is because of this detail that many diagnose the source of Cain’s fault with his jealousy and anger.

Anger and Jealousy did not cause Cain to kill Abel.

The following is a critical bit of understanding to learn from the story of Cain and Abel. That is, that anger and jealous did not cause Cain to kill Abel. In fact, these feelings cannot cause anyone to do anything. Rather, anger and jealousy produce naturally from something else.

Not convinced? Consider this question: can you make yourself feel anger? How about jealousy? Can you simply decide to be jealous in the same way you decide to watch TV or eat a sandwich? Or are these feelings the product of something else? The truth is, Cain did not directly choose to feel anger or jealousy. Instead, the cause of the emotions comes from somewhere else.

In fact, God simply asked Cain, “why are you angry?” God could have simply told Cain “do not be Angry”, but he did not. I have become convinced God’s intent is to nudge Cain towards introspection. God’s desire for Cain was to discover what was producing anger in him.

If it holds true that Cain did not make himself feel anger or jealousy, where did these feelings come from? To answer this, we must examine the response that Cain returned to God when questioned about his brother.

Cain watches Abel at a distance as Abel makes an offering to God. He stands ready to kill him.

The Source of Cain’s Problems: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain’s self image became apparent in the statement, “am I my brothers keeper?” To be your brothers keeper means to be his servant. Therefore, your life becomes a consistent focus on fulfilling the needs of other people.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 9:9

Cain killed Abel because he was not his keeper, or in other words his servant. Indeed it was impossible for him to be a servant to his brother because his ego wouldn’t allow it. The statement “am I my brother’s keeper” is both revealing and convicting. That is, that Cain’s true problem was a superior self-identity over his brother rather than servanthood mentality.

The Result of Cain’s Ego

When a person consumes themselves with competitiveness against those around them, they seek to become greater. All of life, then, is a constant struggle for who is superior. This is the ego. It is the self made image of you, or the you that you think you are. The ego seeks to elevate itself and in order to do so must make others lesser.

This superior sense of self, the competitive mindset, drives Cain to destroy his brother. And for what purpose? Because God had regard for his brother’s offering, but not for his. To a person who defines their sense of self by its relation to others, this is a death blow. The ego is damaged when it is made less. Therefore, a correction is required.

Correction for a self identity imbalance such as this can only result in one outcome. That is, anger. This is the burning emotion that so many of us are familiar with. It produces in us without volition, because of our mind-made image of self. When our position compared to others is lowers, anger (and jealousy) naturally reproduces in our hearts. Note, fruits of the spirit work in the same way, one does not produce them at will. Rather, they must come from somewhere else.

Remedying Anger and Jealousy by Accepting Servitude

Rather than comparing himself against his brother, Cain could have accepted his position as a servant. In doing this, his self-identity problem would have vanished. God would never have asked of Cain “Why are you angry” because anger would never have produced inside of him.

If we buy into, and truly accept our position as a servant to others, the ego becomes smaller and smaller. This is because there is no competitiveness left for the ego to latch onto. Position yourself lower than those around you. In so doing, honor and blessings received by others will not produce anger in you. When we accomplish this, our true identity shines forth. That is, the identity that was imprinted on us by God.

Of course, this is entirely Biblical. In fact, servanthood is the very essence of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Consider the following verses about servanthood:

  • Matthew 20:26-28, 23:11, 25:40
  • Mark 9:35, 10:43-45
  • Luke 6:35, 22:27
  • John 12:26, 13:14, 15:12-13
  • Romans 12:20
  • 1 Corinthians 9:19
  • 2 Corinthians 4:5
  • Galatians 5:13-14, 6:2-10
  • Ephesians 5:21
  • Philippians 2:1-8
  • Titus 3:8
  • James 1:27
  • 1 Peter 2:16

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