Here’s the truth: God is not into religion.
Religion is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices. It has to do with morals and values, rituals and observances. Religion is a thing created by humans for humans. It is a system that WE designed to bridge the gap between human beings and God.
After the fall of humanity, which I discussed in my last post, there existed a great chasm between us and our Creator, something many of us still experience today. There is a longing inside us to be with God as we once were in Eden, but somehow we know that we are too broken to come before Him. Something that has been wronged needs to be righted.
The Origin of Religion
After being cast from the garden, the Bible tells us that Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. We aren’t given much detail about their lives, but the little we do have is puzzling. Let’s take a quick look at the text and dive into the next part of God’s Story:
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? 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.”
And as the story goes, Cain gave into his anger and murdered his own brother.
But here is the perplexing question: why did God accept Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s? The best answer I’ve heard was given in a three part sermon series entitled The End of Religion.
The pastor, Bruxy Cavey, parses the text this way: God made a declaration back in Genesis 3 that one day the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the enemy. When reading this text today, we re-read Jesus back into God’s promise, but Adam and Eve had no context for doing so. They had no reason not to believe that their firstborn, Cain, would be the one to make things right for them. The text even places emphasis on Cain as opposed to Abel.
Cain probably grew up hearing stories about how his parents were banished from the garden, but that one day, he would be the one to make things right. So in an attempt to right things with God, Cain took matters into his own hands and came up with a brilliant plan–Cain would give God back His fruit.
The Consequence of Religion
While Abel gave an offering to God out of joy and gratitude, Cain’s gift was given as a way to make amends, a way to bridge the gap. The text says nothing to make us think that God was angry with Cain for making this offering, just that He did not look on it with favor.
God is not looking for us to sacrifice or perform or follow rules or keep observances in order to be in relationship with Him. Check out what God said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” He was saying, “Cain, just be who I created you to be, My image bearer. Live according to the love that I have shown you.”
But Cain would not have it. Cain was the one who became angry, not God. The mindset of religion took over. He felt justified, and in his self-righteous attitude, he pitted himself against his own brother.
And so religious indignation became the motivation for the very first murder, and sadly, it would not be the last.
And so the beautiful story that God began writing continues to spin wildly out of control. With free-will beings as characters in His story, it may seem that this tale is without hope, but God is like a master chess player. He knows every possible move we could make and has infinite wisdom for how He will handle whatever comes to pass.
Unfortunately, we sometimes go too far, and because of us, parts of God’s story get really bad. Sometimes our drastic actions require drastic counter-reactions from God. Not because He wants to, but because He is still fighting to redeem humanity. We’ll dive into that story next time!
If you want to join me this summer in Discovering the Story or follow along with the Summer Bible Reading Plan, you can find out the details here!