© 2016 Lynn Abbott
The walk home from Oak Elementary was always more fun in the Fall. The cherry tree orchards that flanked either side of our wannabe suburban street scattered leaves everywhere.
My friends and I danced, shuffled and scuttled through the crunchy red, yellow and orange carpet.
Despite the fact that school recommenced, I loved autumn. Maybe, having a November birthday had something to do with that. But I also had it figured that the season ushered in a great many other wonderful celebrations.
Costume parties flourished. And I was allowed a one day binge on chocolate, a rare treat.
Soon, my mother brought in the redwood picnic table and its accompanying benches. I knew that Thanksgiving would bring my grandparents and that meant one thing: a million stories. Scheherazade had nothing on Grandpa. I relished Grandpa’s tales even if I knew he exaggerated just a tad.
Of course, with the holidays, also came tension. Family conflicts that had been pushed under the rug the previous year had a way of resurfacing. Shadows lurked in the family room’s corners.
Yet, despite moments of discord, there was also much to love. Thus, I looked forward to fall leaves and extended family time.
Today, I still enthusiastically anticipate Autumn.
However, mixed with the joy of baked apples, hidden in the brilliant red and orange foliage, and lingering in the golden late afternoon autumn light, a kind of sweet melancholy overtakes me.
Many loved ones no longer sit at our table; Abba has long since called them home.
In addition, as I watch annuals die and trees drop their leaves, I now understand that autumn inaugurates winter’s deep sleep.
Nature’s muffled sounds mark the coming snow.
Cold will smother our rural roads. And holiday lights will provide the only respite from the darkness.
Even so, their twinkle will remind me that in His grace, our heavenly Father has shortened those days. In His wise omniscience and omnipotence, He sets the boundary.
And in mid-winter, if I am still, I hear Abba whisper grace and hope.
Despite the lengthening shadows.
As I ponder the changing seasons, I’m especially grateful for Abba’s gentle reassurance and grace toward the human family.
With news headlines underscoring our world’s growing gloom, it seems the shadows deepen.
Let’s face it… the human family is an odd crew. And even though there remains much to celebrate, tension within the family cannot simply be swept under the rug.
Conflict and tragedy inevitably resurface. Quite honestly, I must acknowledge that for some time now, we have been a rather dysfunctional bunch.
And it all began that day in the garden…when Adam and Eve broke faith with our heavenly Father.
Even so, Abba loves us. If there is any doubt of that, biblical history dispels it.
However, Adam and Eve’s disobedience more than strained their relationship with Abba.
And that is how it happened that on one day, spring colored their lives and on the next, winter stormed.
The shadow of their rebellion enveloped the world…
Death, an unwanted guest, held all captive.
And winter chilled.
Paul writes that through the first couple’s disobedience, “death came into the world,” (Romans 5:12; 8:20-22).
As a result, much like the muted colors in dusk’s shadows, I expect that the physical world lost much vibrancy and luster.
Without a doubt, Adam and Eve’s disobedience altered the world’s spiritual climate.
Sin, in fact, introduced the twin terrorists, pride and self-centered ambition. Intimacy and authenticity were exchanged for isolation and self-protection. So began the devolution of all human relationships.
Clearly, the first couple’s disobedience created a rift in their relationship with Abba. Spiritually disconnected from their Creator, Adam and Eve hid from God.
And when Abba spoke to them, Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the serpent.
Obviously, separation from God also led to a break in their interpersonal connections.
No longer were their thoughts for God or for one another. With something to hide, they built barriers. Yeah, it’s no secret that once trust has been broken, it’s easy to construct walls.
We rush to self-justify and self-protect. And seeds covered by hard shells die.
Thus, on that day, the warm comfort of uninterrupted transparency and intimacy with God and one another became a thing of the past.
Gray winter settled over humanity’s landscape.
That’s right. Death, the great interloper, claimed squatter’s rights.
This becomes all too apparent as you and I read Genesis in its entirety.
Yet, when Eve gave birth, she probably expected an immediate redemption of all that had been lost. She probably recalled God’s promise that her seed would crush the serpent’s head, (Genesis 3:15).
Perhaps, she thought Cain would right the wrong.
If so, Cain gravely disappointed. Eve would not see the promise fulfilled in her lifetime.
Tragedy actually colored the history of her sons, Cain and Abel. Darkness smothered family gatherings.
How well we know that! You and I are well acquainted with sorrow and grief.
The human story has been punctuated by conflict. The first family’s experience simply forecast the vast suffering and evil that has clouded our world since Eden.
As a child, I first read the story of Cain and Abel, and quite frankly, Cain’s situation perplexed me.
As far as I could tell, the whole tragedy was precipitated by a seemingly minor event. Scripture relates little of Cain’s or Abel’s childhood. Instead, Genesis jumps from their birth to professions.
Cain farmed; Abel raised livestock.
Nothing out of the ordinary stands out in either case. In fact, Cain appeared to do something laudable. He brought produce to God.
And Abel followed suit, giving several of the firstborn of his flock.
Genesis 4:4-5 reports, “…And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”
I felt a little sorry for Cain the first I read the passage. Cain brought a gift. Certainly, I thought, that should have been praised.
Yet, Scripture notes that Cain’s gift was not regarded by God. I simply couldn’t understand it.
Cain brought the work of his hands. He gave from what he had.
So, what was the problem?
This, in fact, is a case of “There’s more than what meets the eye.”
Recently, I reexamined the Genesis passage, and in fact, I discovered answers in its understated description.
You see, Cain brought fruit whereas Abel brought the “firstlings of his flock…” (Genesis 4:3-4).
It seems a minor distinction. So Cain was a vegetarian? Nothing wrong with that. Fruit appears a perfectly reasonable offering.
But that was just it. Cain followed his own understanding and had devised his own plan, disconnected and independent of God. In much the same way as his parents had, he disregarded what Yahweh had revealed.
More to the point, when Cain’s parents first disobeyed in the garden, God had replaced their fig leaves with animal skins. In this way, God immediately instituted grace via a substitutionary sacrifice.
Fig leaves could not cover their sin or redeem their lives. Winter held humanity in its grip.
However, from the beginning, God demonstrated grace and promised a Savior, the one who although bruised would crush the serpent.
And even though the Hebrew sacrificial system had not yet been formally instituted, God gave His children a symbol of hope when He clothed them in animal skins.
The offering looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice.
Cain, however, ignored all of that. Instead, he offered “fig leaves.” In essence, he exchanged intimate and authentic communion for hollow self-rule. He substituted an outward veneer of good works for genuine faith.
On paper, Cain attempted to discharge “duty.” I can almost imagine hear him say, “See what I have done…and what a beautiful gift I lay at your feet.”
And there it was… Pride and self-sufficiency kidnapped Cain’s heart.
Thus, Cain brought fruit. Although he had most certainly wronged Abba as all humanity has since the fall, Cain clearly didn’t acknowledge it.
He tried to sweep sin under the rug, to simply save face. And in so doing, he distanced himself from his heavenly Father.
But Abel sacrificed his prized livestock in repentant recognition of his own acts of disobedience. Through humble and honest transparency, Abel drew near to Abba.
It made all the difference in the world.
And so it was. Cain delivered fruit. But Abel followed Abba, and gave with open hand and heart.
Yahweh, of course, sees what we cannot, (I Samuel 16:7).
Both offerings were the expression of the two young men’s hearts.
Thus, “the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering…”
Perhaps, Cain blamed Abel for making Cain look bad. Whatever the case, Cain certainly refused to take personal responsibility and instead, threw a pity party.
He may have told himself, “I deserve better.” Resentment overshadowed him.
I get that. Living outside the garden in the midst of this world’s winter, I find it easy to lose focus despite my best intentions.
I fear the shadows. And in my fear, I know I sometimes self-justify and self-protect. It’s easy to become all about “me.”
It happens to the best of us.
But Cain’s isolation didn’t stop there. He disconnected from his earthly brother as well.
Yeah. And that happens, too… in the best of families; between the best of friends.
In love, God cautioned Cain, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it,” (Genesis 4:7).
Tragedy could yet be avoided, but Cain would have to turn his heart wholly and humbly toward God.
Unfortunately, Cain chose to follow in his parents’ dysfunctional footsteps. Instead of acknowledging his fault, he played the blame game.
He pushed God and others away. He allowed anger to fester, and as history bears out, his bitterness resulted in violence.
Utterly disconnected from God and consequently from others, Cain murdered Abel. Death tightened its grip on this world. Disobedience reigned.
And the shadows grew exponentially.
Reading further in Genesis 4, it becomes clear that Abel’s murder tainted Cain’s family line. The further humanity traveled from garden communion with the Creator, the more disconnected people became. Within a few generations, Lamech–Cain’s descendent–also murdered. Twice. (Genesis 4:23-24).
Lamech confessed, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-seven-fold,” (Genesis 4:24).
It all seems irreparable, doesn’t it?
Things had truly gone from bad to worse. Indeed, when we fully recognize the reach of Adam and Eve’s heart-rending legacy, humanity’s winter appears endless.
Not surprisingly, we long for the comfort and authentic communion of Eden.
If our story ended in Genesis, we might rightly despair.
But Abba’s love letter repeatedly reminds us that even as shadows lengthen, Grace shines.
Abba’s Spirit revives Edenic expectation in our hearts.
When Eve gave birth to Seth, Adam and Eve rediscovered hope. In addition, humanity simultaneously experienced a spiritual revival, (Genesis 4:26).
But there’s more… Through Seth’s line came one–Enoch– who savored a small sampling of Eden.
Thus, we see that with God, redemption remains possible (I John 1:7, 9).
We read, in fact, that Enoch communed so closely with Abba that one day he slipped through this world’s dusky veil, and walked straight into jewel-toned eternity.
By grace through faith, Life resurrected. The squatter evicted. The seed breaks open and yields new life.
Enoch demonstrates the overcoming power of God’s grace.
As dark or dysfunctional as the human family may become, Christ has nevertheless forged the path.
Crushing the serpent, He made our ultimate return to Eden possible.
And so, Grace wins.
Yes, even as shadows fall, our Savior illuminates the Way home.
“Violence will not be heard again in your land, Nor devastation or destruction within your borders…For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be finished,” ~Isaiah 60: 18, 20