Reflections on the murders at Virginia Tech
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel, for his part, brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and his offering, he had no regard.
Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 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."
Later, Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
Cain replied, "I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?"
The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen: your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!" *
Sin lurks at our door, desiring us. God challenges us to master it. But we do not listen.
This is the first time a man killed another. Cain slaughtered his brother as he had done to this animal sacrifice. Lured him into a field, a trap, where he rose up against Abel. Pre-meditated. Brutal. Bloody.
The sin which led Cain down the path of murder need not have done so. God warned Cain that Cain's wounded pride was a foothold for sin. God warned him, "Sin is lurking at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."
But Cain did not listen.
Instead of seeking God's will in mastering the sin that threatened him, Cain pursues his sin. His pride begins to consume him. And begins to burn with rage against his brother. This man whose parents literally walked with God did not seek their wisdom in following God's command. He did not ask God why God rejected his offering in the first place. He did not seek God's will in how to make his sacrifice worthy as his brother's had been.
He shifted the blame for what happened away from himself and decided that it was his brother's fault. If Cain could not have the favor of the Lord, then neither would Abel.
And so Cain lures Abel into the field: "Let us go into the field," he said.
His brother, a man whose faith led him to offer up the firstlings of his sheep, saw no malice in his own flesh and blood. And in the innocence of the morning of the world, he never dared suspect his brother of so heinous a motive. He followed.
Scripture does not record how Cain killed his brother. And, in the end, the method he used does not really matter. We know that he rose up against him and killed him. I imagine the two brothers walking silently in the field. Perhaps Cain is nervous; he knows what he is about to do. He knows that he is about to spill blood that has never been shed before. And he knows he is about to disobey God.
He knows, with the voice of God still ringing in his heart, that what he is about to do is wrong. And yet, as he and his brother walk into the field, he resolves to complete his revenge. His pride yearns to destroy the source of its demotion. One can imagine Cain leading his brother into the field. The two walking, perhaps with Cain in the lead.
All of a sudden, Cain turns; his brother, surprised, wonders what is happening. And then the reality begins to sink in as Cain destroys the life that had wounded his pride.
We do not know how Cain killed Abel; but we do know that it involved spilt blood.
How does God respond to what Cain has done? The Lord gives the man with blood on his hands a chance to admit what he has done. He offers Cain an opportunity to confess and seek the Lord's forgiveness. What does Cain do? He lies.
The sin that Cain allowed a foothold is working its evil. First, Cain was envious. Then he was prideful. He harbored wrath. That wrath grew into murder. After the murder, Cain turns to lies. Even then, God would have heard Cain's confession had he offered it. Certainly, there would have been consequences. But perhaps God would have mitigated the curse under which Cain would labor. Perhaps he would have eased Cain's guilt.
We cannot know, because Cain did not confess. He thought he could hide his inquity from the eyes of Almighty God. When God came looking for Abel, Cain replies with sarcasm, anger, and guilt. "Am I my brother's keeper," he bitterly asks.
But God will not be mocked. When Cain refuses to acknowledge what he has done, God's righteous wrath is kindled against the murderer. "What have you done," the Lord thunders, "your brother's blood cries to me from the ground!"
As our nation responds to what happend in Blacksburg yesterday, we ask one another what we would ask the gunman, as God asked Cain, "What have you done?"
The very blood of those thirty-two people cries to us from the floors, walls, and ground upon which it lays spilt.
We cannot escape the horrible sound of the ominous, incessant gunfire, as our minds recall the horrible images of yesterday. All day long, the death count continued to rise. Shock and disbelief turn to anger. Why did this man do this? Why?!
What we have heard of this man, this killer, is that he was a loner. No friends, really, to speak of. The police have had difficulty finding information on him because he just did not know many people. He did not have the fellowship for which he was designed. He was a foreigner living in a land not his own. This man, an image-bearer of the Almighty and Everlasting God, created from eternity for relationship with him, could not find a friend, even on a campus of 25,000. If early reports are correct, he may have just lost his girlfriend, perhaps the only real relationship he had.
Surely, his pride was wounded. He was lonely. His world was collapsed. His reasons for trying to fight against the self-doubt and sense of isolation finally ran out. Like Cain, sin was lurking in at the door. He should have, like Cain, received the call to fight sin, and master it.
"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?"
Paul asks the difficult quesiton that we, too, must ask in the aftermath of a tragedy such as what happend only three hours from my home, in the mountains of my birth.
The sin that caused Cho Seung-Hui to coldy, calmly, and deliberately murder thirty-two of his fellow human beings yesterday should be no stranger to any of us, "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
After something like this, we always ask, "Why?" But we often ignore the answer. Here was a man lonely and hurting. Some published reports suggest he may have been the vicitm of pedophilia from his father as a child. This was a young man who needed the transforming relationship and fulfillment that only God's love can bring. Because he never found it, he never mastered his sin.
And so, yesterday, the whole world saw the consequences of sin left to itself. It festers and grows and multiplies until it can no longer contain itself, and then it spends its energy destroying as many lives as it can. And in this case, it did so on international television.
People have called what happened yesterday senseless. And, in the sense that there was no reason for innocent people to die, it was.
But we must remember that Cho's actions were neither random nor unpredictable. Like Cain, Cho let sin master him. And ultimately, the lonliness and anger that consumed him on the inside destroyed not only his life, but those of others.
God of Infinite Grace, we confess that so many times we, like Cain, do not seek your help in mastering our sin. We proclaim that you alone are worthy to break the power of sin in our lives, to reclaim us from the curse of death eternal and to purchase for us everlasting life. Help us, O Father, to understand that your power is available to each of us to conquer the sin in our lives. Comfort those who lost friends and loved-ones to death and use this tragedy to bring glory to your Name. We give you thanks, O Lord, that you love each one of us; that you have called each one of us into intimate relationship with you. We ask and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom, with You and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
* Genesis 4:2b-10