|Cain and Abel|
During my growing up years, my parents took me almost every Sunday to my grandparents’ farm where we’d assemble with other members of my mother’s family. Occasionally, we’d take a trip into the small town five miles away where my father’s family was in residence. But it was the former group and their personalities as well as their foibles and fusses that I came to know best.
One of the realities I had to accept was the on-going feud between my mother’s two brothers, now both deceased. I have no idea when the dispute started or what it was about. I’m not sure anyone in the family knew for sure its origins. One of the brothers was a fiery-tempered man, who took umbrage easily. He’d left the area as a young man to make his way in another state, found a sweet wife who somehow could deal with his volatile personality, and then moved back to Iowa and ran a dairy farm owned by my grandfather where he raised his family.
The other uncle was a mild-mannered bachelor, given to few utterances. Apparently, he had somehow offended his brother in a way which couldn’t be rectified, at least to the former’s satisfaction, for the two didn’t speak for many years though they were routinely in each other’s company. Did the quarrel hinge on jealousy? The bachelor brother inherited his father’s larger farm, the other the smaller dairy farm. This might have been a bone of contention; or as some thought, it might have hinged on a piece of equipment lost or never returned. The real reason has never been satisfactorily explained, maybe because it had little substance.
My mother and her three sisters considered the quarrel foolish and a couple of the more outspoken ones tried to mend fences between the brothers to no avail. Apparently, the quiet bachelor was not going to apologize for something he wouldn’t admit to, and the accuser wouldn’t forgive unless he got the other to eat crow. It was a stand-off. Eventually, in their elder years, whatever had been the problem seemed to have been resolved, for they at least spoke to one another.
This kind of quarrel is not uncommon among grown siblings, I’ve noticed. Sometimes quarrels arise over money or possessions or inheritances. Sometimes quarrels begin with a supposed slight or insult, perhaps unintended or taken wrongly by the super-sensitive. Jealousy, too, is a common motive that festers until it breaks out in spiteful language. Whatever the reasons for the onset, feuds between relatives or even friends are hurtful and sad.
Recently, I was in a study group on Genesis, and as we examined Cain’s shocking murder of Abel, I was reminded of other quarrels I witnessed through the years in my own family and in other families as well–whether ordinary folks or celebrities. The reasons really didn’t matter since the result seems to have been the same as the Bible version. No, I never recall seeing or hearing about an actual murder, but I can testify to symbolic murder taking place. I believe the reason for giving us the Cain and Abel story in the Bible is to indicate the “all too human” impulse to eliminate an irritant by removing someone who offends from our lives–yet the irritant always remains. The solution is, of course, acceptance and forgiveness.
How does one forgive is the question. How do we put aside hurt feelings or a sense of injustice without wanting retribution? We’re given the answer in the New Testament when Jesus advises his disciples to forgive “seventy times seven.” But how are we mere mortals able to do such a thing? We can’t. That’s the problem since those offended haven’t the power to forgive on their own, a power given to us by the Grace of God and sought through prayer. This, then, allows the abnegation of self. It seems obvious that long-standing quarrels are rooted in selfish or self-centered attitudes. What else could it be?
We Christians are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, an edict that seems impossible at first glance. After all, we can see so many unworthys around us that don’t deserve our unconditional love, let alone forgiveness. Yet C. S. Lewis explained those words best when he asked us to consider how we love ourselves. Do we like everything about ourselves? Heavens, no! But what one thing do we always wish for ourselves? It is quite evident that we wish ourselves well. Can we not do the same for our neighbor, our brother, our sister, our friend? Wishing them well forgoes not speaking to them or thinking thoughts of revenge or even hatred. To effect this change in our attitude requires intercession from a Higher Power. In our humanness we can accomplish much to override difficulties, but I have seen bitterness long rule over those who can’t turn their hearts to God., the only Person who can deliver us from the sin of unforgiveness.