Genesis Through the Lens of Shame Part II

In Chapter Four of Genesis Adam and Eve are now living outside of paradise but still in direct communication with God. In this location they beget their first children Cain and Abel. Cain seems to strongly carry the shame mindset. He is a farmer and his brother Abel is a shepherd. Both of them make offerings to God from the fruit of their respective labors. God shows respect or favor to Abel’s offering but not to Cain’s. The text is not clear about how God conveyed this information but Cain becomes angry and jealous of his brother as a result. In this context Cain’s anger and jealousy are shame based reactions because they arise from his assumption that God is disrespecting him by showing respect to his brother. He is living by comparison. It is this assumption, that favor to one means disfavor to another that is at the heart of the misery of the shame based experience.

God then asks Cain:

Why art thou angry? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? But the lust therof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it. (Gen 4:6-7).

This is interesting. My reading of this is that God is telling Cain not to live by comparison and that his favor of Abel’s offering has no reflection on Cain. Furthermore, God tells him that to live by comparison (i.e., with the shame mindset) is the gateway to sin. Of course sin can be interpreted as an offense to God, meaning, God has preferences and sin is simply something God does not like. I tend to look a sin as those actions which stop a person from growing and truly living a full life. Living with the shame mindset is absolutely something that I would classify as sin in this respect. It makes sense to me that God would not prefer this. Further, if I am to look at the character of God as being symbolic of man’s true self which becomes buried by shame I think this makes even more sense. Finally, God points out that Cain can master sin by not allowing himself to live with the shame mindset. I imagine a Buddhist might similarly interpret this passage.

Of course Cain does not understand what God is saying here (as a shame-based person would tend not to be able to do) and when God is not looking he takes Abel out into the field and kills him. This is another shame based reaction because Cain is really angry with God for not favoring his offering. Since he cannot lash out at God he lashes out at a weaker target. Then when God asks him where his brother is he responds sarcastically, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is all shame based. Shame cannot admit guilt, in extreme cases, not even to itself and it deflects with sarcasm.

God knows what Cain has done and banishes him from this original place of banishment.  Cain protests saying that now other people will kill him. It is unclear who these other people would be assuming the only people on earth at this point are Adam, Eve, Cain and his wife (where ever she came from). But God marks him as a warning to anyone who might try to kill him. Cain then moves east of Eden. It seems that every time man betrays himself with shame he moves further from God (i.e, his true self).

 

 

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