Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cain and Theologians of Glory

Gerhard Forde has claimed that we are all theologians of glory by nature. Once you know what he means, it's not hard to find instances of it surfacing.

Sunday evening at a Bible study at church we were discussing the story of Cain and Abel. The question was raised, "Why did God reject Cain's sacrifice?" Our pastor who was leading the study responded calmly, "The text doesn't really say. It's more concerned about what happened afterward." But a theologian of glory can't let it sit at that, and so a litany of answers was offered: "God knew that Cain was a bad person." "Cain offered his sacrifice with a bad attitude." "Abel offered the best of his flock but Cain just offered whatever was lying around."

What it comes down to is this: there must be a reason God preferred Abel's sacrifice to Cain's. Cain must have done something wrong -- something we would do right if we were in his place. If we can just figure out what the problem was, we can fix it, we can do better. This is the thinking of the theologian of glory.

The theologian of glory can read this story and start formulating a sermon on "How to Offer a Proper Sacrifice to God" but in the story, nothing Cain does is labeled "sin" until he reacts to God's favor of Abel's sacrifice. The real problem in the story is Cain's refusal to let God be God.

The Revised English Bible has a very interesting translation of God's speech in Genesis 4:6-7
Why are you angry? Why are you scowling?
If you do well, you hold your head up;
if not, sin is a demon crouching at the door;
it will desire you, and you will be mastered by it.
This offers a wholly different perspective from the traditional "If you do well, you will be accepted." Cain is more concerned about "doing well" than God is. I don't know which one is a better translation, but I think the REB better fits with the point of the story. And Cain reacts to God's speech as a theologian of glory scorned:
Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out into the country."

1 comment:

Luthsem said...

Spoken like a true theologian of the cross