The Instinct of Sarcasm: The Story of Cain

Day 1 of 5 • This day’s reading


Sin is Crouching

I bet you haven’t thought of sarcasm as an instinct, but by the end of this series, I think you’ll recognize how prevalent it is and how dangerous it can be if not properly checked. And don’t worry, I’m not trying to kill your fun or put an end to all sarcasm.

Some have called sarcasm the humor of our age. Sarcasm is everywhere: from news commentators to stand-up comedians and just about every conversation with friends. There is nothing sinful about a sarcastic joke. But we need enough discernment to recognize that sarcasm is not always a joke. Sarcasm can be a clever trick to hide a dangerous contempt. There’s no better example of it than the story of Cain.

Cain is the firstborn human, the first son of Adam and Eve. But Cain wasn’t born into the peaceful, perfected garden. He was born into the world of sin, the world broken and polluted by the serpent's lies. He did learn enough from the experience of his parents that both he and his brother Abel, offered God worship in the form of sacrifices. The trouble came when God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.

Commentators have long struggled with why God drew that distinction. As you probably see from the passage, it isn’t explicitly clear. But that may be part of the point. We don’t know why because Cain never asked. His lack of genuine curiosity is puzzling, especially considering that the passage does tell us that God came down and struck up a conversation with Cain.

God came with a warning. “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” That is the first time sin is mentioned in the Bible. Adam and Eve had been tempted into disobedience by the serpent, but here God directly calls it sin and points out to Cain that it is in him, like a wild animal crouched and waiting to pounce at just the right opportunity.

It’s a remarkable claim. Sin is not just out there in the world, it was there in him. In his anger. In his bitterness. In his unwillingness to inquire honestly of God. The next verse reads, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother.” Cain walked away from the conversation God initiated and spoke instead to his brother. He lured Abel into a field and rose up against him. He killed his brother.

I don’t think God’s rejection of Cain’s offering was a rejection of Cain. It was an opportunity. God wanted Cain’s worship to be about more than physical offerings. He wanted Cain to recognize the battle within himself. Cain proved too immature to head the lesson, the divine opportunity for maturity and growth.

Shakespeare described the first phase of man’s life as a schoolboy reluctantly dragging himself to school. He isn’t interested in learning, too absorbed in his own interests to take the lesson. So it is with many of us. God offers us a path to maturity and we ignore the lesson. We take his grace as a threat.

Be sure, there is no maturity without the experience of growing pains. To mature we must be challenged, corrected, disciplined. God takes up that work, by his grace. The real question is, are we willing to engage the divine lessons?

Why do we respond with frustration when we are corrected by God or others?