Cain and Abel are the history of the human race in microcosm. We have true worship and false worship, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, love and hatred all bound up in one story, one episode. From this point, down through all of history, this is all we have: Cains or Abels and nothing but the two. You are either Cain or Abel.
We don’t really know how long this story went on. Could have been days, years, or decades, but we know that Cain worshiped God by offering veggies and fruit to the Lord while Abel offered the first born of his flock and their fat (Gen. 4:3-4). Abel’s worship was messy and bloody. Cain’s worship was easier, cleaner, at least in the short term. But worship isn’t just honor; it isn’t just a salute or a bow. Worship is communing with the God of the universe. It’s calling on the Lord, speaking to Him, offering yourself to Him, asking Him to be present with you now and always.
Inside the garden, that was much easier. God designed the world and people to hold His glory, to bare the weight of His glory. But when sin fractured human nature and spread it’s brokenness even into creation, it was no longer an easy thing. Fallen men can’t bear the weight of His glory. Therefore, so that God’s glory would not destroy or consume His creation, He inserted boundaries, divisions, barriers so that His sons might one day be redeemed and brought back into His glory.
But the way back into the presence of God would have to be by blood. It would have to be by death because the wages of sin is death. Because God loves righteousness and justice. God loves being right. And it is the glory of God to share that righteousness with an unrighteous human race. This means that God is determined to demand the greatest payment for sin and at the same time provide that same extreme payment because of grace and mercy and love.
Immediately following the Fall, God pictured this plan by killing a beast or two whose skins were used to clothe Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). This was the first blood sacrifice, the first type of propitiation and atonement. Innocent animals were slaughtered in place of Adam and Eve, and the skins of those animals became coverings for their nakedness and shame.
This means that the worship of God would always ever after need to include this recognition that sins are forgiven, shame and guilt are covered only through death, through the shedding of blood. Ultimately, the blood of animals could not take away sin, but God received these types, offered in faith as sufficient.
But ultimately this isn’t just God’s favorite flavor of ice cream. Substitutionary blood isn’t just a preference; it’s the way the world works. Apart from atoning blood, the glory of God weighs heavy upon this world. It drives people to despair, to restless anxiety, to desperation, to hatred and bitterness. Apart from atoning blood, the weight of God’s glory is too much to handle; it’s oppressive and drives people insane with fear and envy.
In other words, when someone rejects God’s provision of a bloody sacrifice, they are signing up for insanity. The glory of God demands blood, and so Cain ultimately must have blood. His vegetables don’t bleed, but his brother will. Refusing to kill a lamb ultimately leads Cain to kill a brother. Where there is no sacrificial blood, there must be some other substitute, some other victim.
At the same time, when we embrace God’s way through the blood of a substitute, we become glory-bearers, and it becomes the most natural thing in the world for unbelievers, idolaters, false brothers to hate us, to envy us, to resent us. When our face begins shining with the glory of God, it’s the most natural thing in the world for the Cains and Jews of the world to hate us and feel threatened by us. And then Abel is struck down in cold blood, Stephen is dragged out of the city and stoned to death, Jesus is crucified outside the city next to criminals.
When God’s people look to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus for their salvation, forgiveness, and covering, they are being called to take up their cross. They will be cut; they will be bloodied. The shape of your worship shapes you. When you worship the slaughtered lamb who takes away the sins of the world, you are signing up for martyrdom. But when you refuse to worship the slaughtered lamb you are signing up to become a terrorist, an arsonist, a killer.
You become the shape of your worship. If you offer the blood of the spotless lamb of God, you are embracing God’s way of humility, weakness, and death. If you reject the way of blood, the weight of God’s glory will be too heavy and your blood thirst will drive you to insanity or murder or suicide and often all of the above. Cain refused to shed blood in worship, and so he shed his brother’s blood. Abel gladly offered the blood of lambs, and his own innocent blood was shed and cried out for justice.
If you are an Abel, then your worship is received through the once for all suffering and death of Jesus for your sins and His righteousness covers you. But this will make you an easy target because then you are being laden with God’s glory, and that’s oppressive, threatening, and harsh to hard-hearted, stiff-necked rebels. They’ll either try to get you to put a veil on your face or they’ll kill you. But all of your suffering, all of your shame, your blood shed cries out for the justice of God.
But if you are Cain, refusing the blood of Christ, no matter what kind of theological jargon or justification you put on it, you are uneasy, restless, anxious, bitter, and feeling trapped. You can turn to Jesus and be forgiven, but if you don’t, you will find the weight of glory growing increasingly oppressive, and you will see those around you, who are being blessed as your oppressors rather than examples for you to follow. Sin crouches at your door; it’s desire is for you, but you should rule over it.
This is fundamentally why unless God has done justice for you in Jesus, you cannot do justice for Him. If you are not right with God through the blood of the cross, then you’re just a vegan getting ready to go on a shooting rampage. And this is why if the blood of Christ is not the foundational justice of a nation, politics will ultimately careen from murder to murder: unjust war, terrorism, abortion, torture, euthanasia. If you don’t have the blood of Jesus, your blood thirst will drive you to canibalism in one form or another. There is only the perfect willing victim or all the other unwilling victims. There is only the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus or bitterness, hatred, angry outbursts, and brutal murder of the innocent.