THE “HEAVEN” OF OTHER PEOPLE Read Genesis 4:1-16 for Sunday

Have you ever just got fed up with life and in a moment of prayerful clarity blurted out to God, “Dear Lord … stop the world, I want to get off!” Or have you ever thought to yourself (and maybe said aloud at some point), “If everyone would just listen to my way, then all these problems would go away!” Those statements are both good examples of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Our own self-centered thinking can convince us that the problems in our life, and in the world, are caused by other people. It’s always someone else’s fault when something bad happens. That serpent voice inside our head is constantly telling us that we know best … that our thoughts and ideas are the right ones … that our prejudices and biases are valid … and that we are the smartest person in every room we go into … just don’t flaunt it! 

This is what is called “stinkin’ thinkin’” throughout the Bible. No, that’s not a literal translation, but it is an accurate one! And it leads us to become convinced that the only way to escape our problems is to get control of other people in our life … or get away from them. Thus, we end up living a life with two main relationship priorities with other people: 1) CONTROL other people; and 2) ESCAPE from other people. For each situation in our life, those become our default strategies. 

Genesis 1 & 2 teaches us the basic flaws of this way of thinking. When God tells us what were not supposed to do, we immediately hear a voice inside of us that questions it, and then convinces us otherwise. Now, what God told us not to do becomes the most tempting thing for us to do … so we take CONTROL over God and our situation. 

Later, when we realize the consequences of this, the only way to live with it is to blame another person: the serpent told me I could do it; my spouse said it was ok; it looked so right and seemed so good that I decided it had to be OK with God. Take any situation in your life that’s not going well … and this is its fundamental story – with different details. 

By the time we get to Genesis 4, the issue of “other people” becomes real. We have been banished from living in paradise because we were unwilling to be obedient to God’s will, but still, God gives us life and a livelihood. It’s no paradise, but it sure beats the alternative! And at this point in the story, two other people appear. Cain and Abel are sons born of Adam and Eve – but they could be any of the key people in our life. And most importantly, they could be us – you and me.

One interesting facet of this story is that I have never heard any person self-identify with Cain. Cain is the older brother of Abel whose sacrifice to God was not pleasing to God, while little brother Abel’s was. This one mere distinction sets off a series of feelings and emotions between brothers that encompasses all we need to know about how we relate to other people. 

Here‘s what happens: Cain feels self-righteous in his relationship with Abel because he is the older brother. It could be a hundred other things for us – but we always have something in our life that makes us “better than” other people. Cain feels deserving … and entitled … to have a better relationship with God than little brother Abel. When things don’t work out that way, Cain’s expectations are left unfulfilled. And the universal and eternal truth of unfulfilled expectations is that they lead to resentment. 

Cain thought he was more deserving … entitled … and worthy. His heart burned with envy when Abel was blessed by God in his place (as he saw it). The serpent voice in Cain went to work and reminded him of the two options he could take: 1) CONTROL the other; 2) ESCAPE from the other. Cain decided on the ultimate response – he would do both with Abel. By killing his younger brother, he thought he took ultimate CONTROL over him, and ESCAPED from him forever. Or so he thought … 

And that’s the fallacy of ‘stinkin’ thinkin’. It’s not based on Gods’ truth of how things work, but rather it’s based on a perverted sense of justice and truth that comes from the serpent inside of us … which relies more on our self for truth than on God. So Cain found out that what he thought he was doing to Abel, God was actually doing to him. 

Cain didn’t acquire CONTROL over Abel by killing him. Instead, the spirit of Abel stayed in his heart, leading him to wonder, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Nor did Cain ESCAPE from Abel by killing him. Instead, Cain was marked for life as a killer and he was banished to live alone.

Right here, in the 4th chapter of Genesis, in just 16 verses, in a story about two brothers, we learn how God expects us to live in relationship. Unless we are willing to love the other person according to God’s will, we will always find ourselves having problems with relationships. Until we get over the stinkin’ thinkin’ that tells us that we are the most important person in any relationship, then we will never be satisfied in any relationship.

Even though our responses may not be as drastic as Cain’s was, we still continue to try to gain control over other people in our lives and when needed, find ways to escape from them. We constantly find ways to “murder” and “kill” other people in little ways every day. And never even stop to think about it. 

 But when God’s simple and transformational commandment becomes our commitment, then everything in our life changes for the good, and or sacrifices become more pleasing to God. 

Jesus tells us that there is one way to live … there is one truth to live by … and there is one life according to God’s will. 

Anything other than that can lead us to hell on earth. But in living this way, then we discover the “heaven” of other people.

In His name … according to His Way …

Pastor Bob