certainly isn’t on my “Top 10 Inspiring Heroes” from the Bible list. But if I’m honest, he’s on another of my lists: “Big-time Sinners in the Bible I Can really Relate To.”
It’s not the jealousy or the murder that I connect with; rather it’s that self-justifying question he tosses back to God that jumps off the page and often echoes in my own thoughts: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, NIV).
Cain’s motivations in this defiant interchange with the Almighty are as complicated as any twisting and turning modern-day crime novel.
When I have this attitude, on the other hand, my motivation is pretty simple: I’m aiming to justify a self-focused life.
Let me be honest: There are plenty of days when just “keeping” my own life running—and “keeping” my beloved family—are about all I feel I can handle!
And yet, though God doesn’t directly answer Cain’s question, God does provide you and me with an answer that resonates throughout the entire Bible: yes. From laws about caring for strangers and aliens in the Pentateuch (;) to strident calls for justice for the vulnerable in the Prophets (; ; ); to Jesus’ challenge to love our neighbors—even our enemies—as we love ourselves (; ; to Paul’s teachings about hospitality (); to John’s vision of the just, peaceful kingdom of God come to earth (), the answer is yes, yes, yes.
I am called to be my brother’s . . . my neighbor’s . . . even my enemy’s keeper.
God invites us to love, stand up for, and kneel down in humility to serve others in our lives. And that call challenges us to step out of tight-knit circles of loved ones and out of our comfortable routines to see life through the lens of the kingdom.
Does this mean God wants you or me to serve in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen (as often comes to mind for me when I hear the word service)? Perhaps yes. But also the answer may be no or not now. God may have other avenues of service in mind: ways to love, sacrifice, extend compassion, and minister that are incorporated into our everyday lives. In other words, service may not be so much about clearing off a space on the calendar as it is clearing out an open, welcoming space in our hearts.
Who is your “brother”? Who is your “neighbor”? . . . Will you keep? Will you love? Will you serve?