The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:6-7 (NRSV)
These were the words God said to Cain right before Cain killed his brother Abel. God punished Cain for Abel’s murder by sentencing him to be “a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth,” fundamentally alone. Cain said to God, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!”
Since that mythical moment, we have been at continual war with one another, including the horror unfolding in Ukraine. One of the most chilling photos I’ve seen of that war is not streets strewn with bodies or weeping refugees at border checkpoints, but rather a photo of Putin isolated at one end of a comically long table, his “closest advisors” miles away at the other end. I googled him. It doesn’t appear that he has any friends, no one he really loves, and no one to hold him accountable. That is a man with nothing to lose.
Envy, greed, shame, fear, and loss of reputation precipitated Cain’s murderous act. Perhaps Putin’s war plan as well. We may not be a brother-killer or a world leader with a nuclear arsenal, but we all know shame and fear, and how they have made us do real harm.
I don’t know how to end the war in Ukraine or reform Putin. But I know I can work on the Cain within: honestly face my worst impulses, and seek to master my feelings before they explode into violence. I can normalize confessing wrongdoing, and calling in those who wrong me rather than sending them into exile.
Lord, we’ve studied war since Cain killed Abel. Set us to studying our own frightened hearts instead, and end this warring madness.