Why are you so resentful and crestfallen. If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.
This story of Cain and Abel is so curious. There are a number of things “Wonky” about it. First, how do the brothers know that God has “looked kindly” on the one and not the other? Secondly, is it not odd that the Lord seems to have intimate conversation even with the one who had the “wrong” offering?
The first question was answered rather graphically when I was in grade school. My Children’s Story Bible showed the two brothers praying and fire falling from heaven on Abel’s altar, while Cain “got nothing” for his trouble. I remember that Abel was also blond and very muscly and that always helps with knowing who the good guys are (reversed above – but still white folks). Other teachers as I grew older said that Abel was offering an animal – which sacrificial system God approved. But this whole fruits thing was pagan and not so pleasing to God. Yet that cannot true either: for by the time we get to the Exodus, God asks for and enjoys offerings of just about everything.
Then there’s this curious dialogue where God says “If you do well you can hold up your head. But if not, sin is lurking at the door.” The Fathers read this as a commentary on Cain’s pride: not on his worship, but on his state of mind/heart during worship. That has me thinking today of how we worship God.
All of us are commanded to worship God. None of us are exempt from this command. Some of us decide not to follow the command, avoiding man’s innate sense of God, of being homo adorans, but all of us have the obligation. The how (which liturgy) seems to me very important, but I will not get into liturgy wars in this blog post – that’s too easy. As the Christmas Carol says, “People look east but not the priest”. I won’t turn my back on the rest of the issue though. What I do know is that some of us seem to worship God, and some of us seem to talk about us worshiping God.
We sang this ditty yesterday at Mass (at the recessional) which reads less like a worship song and more like a Choir Recruiting Ad. It talks about God mostly in the 3rd Person. I see nothing wrong with the theology of Music expressed in the song, but it’s not addressed to God – it is addressed to us who are singing. It says, essentially, Don’t we feel good about singing about God? Why yes. Yes, we do! Let’s sing some more about God, OK? Because that feels good! One day, we’ll be able to sing about God all the time. Alleluia! That’s like going to confession and saying, “Mistakes were made. And I feel bad when mistakes are made.” I use this example because even though I’ve been going to confession since 2002, I need help all the time.
I don’t think liturgy, itself, fixes this problem. I’ve known people who can talk in about God in the 3rd person while they perform the Traditional Latin Mass or the Diving Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Anglo Catholics can get all hung up on the “Anglican Patrimony” and forget the God it’s all about. So can Russians. In the Liturgy of St Basil, in the middle of Lent, once I jumped an octave and perfectly hit a high D near the end of a setting of “All Creation Rejoices in Thee”. A friend gave me a thumbs up… and I still need to go to confession about how prideful that makes me feel. As if I were performing instead of praying. I was – and I wasn’t doing the thing I was supposed to do. Liturgy doesn’t fix this problem.
Are we demanding of God because we have a “right” to stand before him? I think of women who ask for ordination and – being told no – run off and start “WymynChyrch” and get in the paper for being “really ordained Catholic women priests”. I think of me, not getting ordained, and running off and joining an “Indy Orthodox Church” and becoming a bishop. We have all kinds of pride. We demand of God a sign that he likes us. No sign will be given – because it’s already been given in Christ’s blood.
When pride gets the better of us, we are like Cain and his story doesn’t end well at all. Yet, God reaches out to us – to sinners especially. Take comfort in the fact that God may like Abel’s heart, but he loves Cain just as much and wants to fix him. He knows that he has to lure Cain home. He knows that Cain can easily be tripped up by his own pride – tripped up and landing in sin. And yet even in punishment, God has mercy. In the end, Cain may well repent.
But how about us?