For many years, I struggled with the account of Cain and Abel. Why was it that Cain’s vegetarian offering was unacceptable? He was a farmer and offered what he had. So why was his brother’s offering acceptable, but his was not?
Over time and exposure to the Old Testament, I believe I am beginning to understand. Cain’s offering was religious and Abel’s was out of a relationship. God is a respecter of our hearts and our lives. The Bible repeatedly condemns those of us that draw near to Him with our mouths, but not with our hearts. His Word condemns us for bringing offerings to Him that are merely religious trappings. Do not act piously while neglecting the poor, those disconnected from relationships, the hungry, the oppressed, and the lost.
Not that any of us are perfect. Back in my study of ethics, we learned the difference between an act and an action. An act was defined as external behavior. The action included the attitude and context. A torturer might administer water and mop the brow of his victim in hopes that the victim will survive long enough to provide the desired information. The act might be the same, but the action is quite different, when a nurse provides the same service to a victim of torture that has been rescued.
I don’t believe the issue was with Cain’s offering itself. It was not because God does not want vegetables. It was because God wants human devotion. Today is Monday. Many of us went to church yesterday. Perhaps we even placed money in an offering plate. But did we offer our hearts? Did we seek a personal relationship with God?
The trajectory of Cain’s life was a way from God. So much so that he quickly demonstrated that he had murder in his heart and the desire to deceive God about it. Abel was on a trajectory toward God. I’m sure he was not perfect, but in general he sought to please God. This is why Cain’s religion was rejected and Abel’s relationship with God was strengthened.
I pray that today I will move toward God — and bring my heart with me!