This past Sunday, my pastor spoke about faith. Not just that we need it, or that without it we cannot possibly please God. In fact, he was teaching against the argument that all we need is enough faith and then anything is possible. In his teaching, he referred several times to the tendency we have to "doubt" - believing if we have ANY doubt at all, we must not have biblical faith! Now, let this one sink in a little. I had to consider it a couple of times before I really got it. He said, "You cannot have faith without doubt." His premise - faith isn't the absence of doubt - it is obeying God in the presence of doubt!!!
3-5 Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk. 6-7 God spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4:3-7 MSG)
So, what does this passage have to do with biblical faith? First, let me set the stage a little. Two sons were born to Adam and Eve - Cain and Abel. Cain was the first-born. Now, if you know anything about the "birthright" of the firstborn in Old Testament times, you know this was a pretty privileged spot in the family line. The firstborn was the recipient of a double-portion of the inheritance - but he also had some other responsibilities, such as taking on the family business. If you remember back to when God "closed Eden" to Adam and Eve, you will recall he also gave them a "family business", so to speak. He told Adam to "work the land" - so farming was his business. It makes sense to see Cain (the firstborn) following in the footsteps of his father in the family business!
So, Cain is a farmer and Abel seems to be a herdsman. If you also recall, Adam was given charge of the creatures of the land - at least in Eden. So, he was aware of the goodness of the creatures and the care they needed. It is then possible to believe Abel was also following a little in the "family business" - but probably not the "main" business of the family. Yet, somehow, he connects with the idea of a "blood offering" to God the Father - the firstborn of his herd - the choicest of all. Cain, on the other hand, brings an offering - but it was just described as "produce of his farm". I don't think we should skip over this. Let's dig a little deeper.
Abel could not "produce" a lamb or even a little goat. He needed the animals to do what he could not do. He simply knew the beauty of the firstborn and the special place of the firstborn in God's order. Cain could collect the seed of this year's crop and plant it again next year, producing what he planted. I realize Cain did not "produce" the crops, but he worked them, watered them, and then harvested them - the harvest a direct result of his efforts. Abel simply kept the herd where they had food and water provided for them - taking them from place to place where their needs would be met.
Somehow Abel trusted God to provide what he was incapable of producing - the offspring he'd offer on the altar. On the other hand, Cain produces what he was "capable" of producing - the harvest was a direct result of his doing. To him, one bushel is equivalent to the next. Nothing about the grain seems more important as he looks from one bushel to the other. If you have ever tasted the "first" of the crop, then you know how sweet and tender it is. He doesn't seem to connect to the idea of God being more concerned with what we offer than in the fact of us giving an offering in the first place. He brings the off-hand offering, then thinks God should acknowledge it - blessing him for his "obedience". Abel brings his offering, thinking God has blessed him with the best, so he will bless God with the best.
Our pastor made another connection related to biblical faith for us this weekend - we often think things will turn out a certain way just because we have faith. Yet, if we read scripture long enough, we will certainly realize God is more concerned with our obedience - not just that we did a certain thing! He wants our heart to "connect" with the offering - not just our minds. He wants us to realize the importance of what we are offering - this is biblical faith. When we connect action with belief - we are operating in biblical faith. Yet, this "connection" is riddled with all kinds of doubt - simply because faith is best revealed in the presence of doubt! Cain came with his offering - doubting it made any difference which bushel he placed upon the altar. Abel came with his - selecting only the choicest cuts to offer. In the end, one was accepted - the other rejected.
Why did Cain sulk? Maybe it was because he had "expected" God to be delighted with his "careless" offering. Isn't this how we often act? We don't give our "obedience" a whole lot of thought - then expect God will just bless our "off-handed" obedience. Silly us! God wants our best, not just our "stuff". He wants our hearts, not just our minds. He wants our "sacrifice", not just our excess. Biblical faith is based on trust - give God the best, and trust him to do the rest. One more thought from this weekend's talk - we often doubt God most when we don't want to obey him! Cain sulked away - doubting God's heart, questioning God's care for him. Why? He was struggling with his heart-response in the offering.
God wants us to hear the message to Cain with ears of "obedience" and "faith". We may struggle with doubts, but when we surrender our best to him, he is quick to envelop our doubts in his care. When we are obedient to what we know to be true about God - like Abel did when he acted on what he knew about God always giving HIS best to us - God is honored. God doesn't expect more from us - but he will never be delighted with accepting less from us, either! Just sayin!