13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
Cain’s proclamation of woe speaks to a very basic fear that lurks in all of us: the fear of ostracization, of being outcast from society, of being marked, of being known first and foremost as “the person that did that terrible thing,” of watching society happily continue along its way while we stand on the outside looking in.
I can only imagine how crushing a condemnation one must feel when sentenced to jail. I would expect that “unfit for society” and “a danger to others” are hard labels to take out of the mind, even after being released back into the wider world. Even after one is “reintegrated” do they actually feel so?
To be sure, our crimes against our fellowmen drive a very real rift between us, and murder is the most separating crime of all. Sooner or later, though, all of us would become ostracized from one another if not for grace and healing.
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
I’ve discussed the desire some have to see the world burn, to see the wicked made accountable for all that they have done wrong. To this sentiment come the verses I have quoted above. God will see to the matters of judgment and forgiveness on His own. We are governed by His law, judged by His eye, and doled out mercy or retribution at His discretion.
He employs no servant in the matter of gatekeeping. He doesn’t need or want our help in deciding who is worthy of heaven. Will some be saved and others damned? Surely. Does it matter to us one bit which they will be? Not at all.
Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother remaineth in the greater sin
But of you it is required to forgive all men
The question of this study is how to not despair as the world embraces evil. It is about how we keep our faith in humanity and work with our brothers and sisters, rather than leave them to their fates. And I believe part of the answer is how we deal with the sins that humanity commits against us. Each of us is affected by the growth of evil in the world, each of us is hurt by the collective abuse of human selfishness.
And our faithlessness in humanity often stems from that initial hurt we received from society, that time when some worldly darkness first broke our innocence. We might know that we need to forgive individuals, but as recorded in these verses what about the requirement “to forgive all men?” If we’re ever to get our faith in humanity back we have to make our peace with the world at large. We have to forgive society first before we can help it.
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus
Saul had convinced himself that the world ought to be a particular way. Having been thus convinced he felt very strongly about it. He was very energetic in his opinions, going to great lengths to enforce them upon the world. But no matter how hard he wanted the truth to be the way that he wanted it to be…it just wasn’t.
Why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes
As Saul came to learn, it frankly doesn’t matter how strongly we feel that the world should be a certain way. If it so happens that it isn’t that way then it just isn’t. All of us convince ourselves that what we believe is right in one way or another, and when the actual truths of the world do not align with our expectations we feel pierced, like an ox kicking against the pricks.
We often speak of our desire to “change the world.” Our choice of words here betrays our vain arrogance, because in truth we can do no such thing. We can change society and we can change physical constructs, but the world, nature, and the underlying systems that define the way things are? Never. The rules of heaven, of earth, and of the soul: these simply abide as they are. So yes, we may change society, but we often change it to be contrary to actual truth. And then we fight for what we want but we never get it, because the entire world seems set to frustrate us instead. We are kicking against the pricks and wonder why it hurts.
I spent two years of my life serving a mission in the Caribbean. It was a wonderful opportunity to see various countries and cultures, and be educated by the similarities and differences between them. One trend that stood out to me was how powerful of an influence one’s society could be.
For example, it was not uncommon to hear of individuals changing their religion after moving to another country. Hindus from Guyana might very well become Christians after moving out to the islands, to better fit in with those around them. Similarly, Christians from the islands might become Hindus after moving to Guyana.
I, myself, come from an environment where a single religion makes up the majority of the culture. Many that move here join the religion, and so long as one remains in this bubble it is far easier to maintain that faith. It is very easy to believe that we are the way that we are forever, that we would never embrace a different walk of life. But if you have never lived in a culture where you are a minority, then you do not realize how tempting it is to change yourself just to fit it in.
Our default tendency is to believe whatever we are surrounded by. It is possible to believe more deeply than this, but that requires conscious, intentional discipleship. Whatever your religion is, it may be helpful to ask yourself if you are that religion because it is convenient, or because you actually believe in it. For example, I am a Christian, but is that because I am surrounded by Christians, or do I really and truly believe that Christ is the only way to spiritual perfection. Do I really believe that his teachings will provide me peace and fulfillment that I cannot find in any other place? I do, but I had to do real work to obtain that belief.