The Murder of Abel

THE HISTORY OF SALVATION begins in a garden and ends in a city. The Heavenly City is not an urban desert, it possesses echoes of both pasture and garden. In the City of Peace the light is The Lamb and the trees, which bring healing to the nations, draw water from the stream that flows through the city from the throne. There is a place there for the children of both Cain and Abel.

Abel, the keeper of the flocks, continues the first work of Adam as steward of God’s fruitful creation and the order of creatures and birds given to sustain life. Cain’s work is shaped by the Fall and its consequences; it is Cain, as a tiller of the soil, who has to battle with the hard earth, breaking new and hostile ground, making a living by the sweat of his brow. Abel lives in God’s gift. Cain works out his own salvation. Abel found favour in God’s sight and Cain could not master his resentment and jealousy and killed him.

For Cain sin is always waiting, crouching at the door, and his children have never mastered the same simmering resentment. There has always been an enmity between the coloniser, the breaker of new ground, and the men of the pasture. This unresolved conflict of interests is one expressed in many forms in the stories different cultures; the polis and arcadia have never been compatible. It is the children of Cain that threw out of balance the order of creation, the children of Abel have kept alive the rumour of Eden in their midst. It is true that now their progeny are now confused; and thus their internecine strife is go ugly and distressing.

In our own time Cain continues to murder Abel. It is the merciless greed of the tiller of soil; ever hungry for more land; ever building villages and towns that has forced Abel to increase his flock and dilute his care and compassion for them. Abel, once again, is paying the price for Cain’s uncontrollable appetite. Abel now hides, fearful of a plague, besieged in his home. Cain in building apocalyptic pyres of his brother’s lamb for sacrifice; not a sacrifice pleasing to God, but an immolation to the gods of greed. For although they live in a different relationship to creation, they both have a desperate need for each other. When the ashes are cold, what will happen? Can Cain and Abel be reconciled?

It is not by any common agricultural policy, nor any reform in farming practice, that these wounds can be healed. This disease is not economic, nor ecological, but spiritual. It is Christ the Lamb whose blood brings healing. The blood of Abel calls for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus pleads for pardon. Pray for a new beginning. Pray for a new partnership between the urban and the rural, city and garden; may the children of Cain and Abel live in peace.

Andy Hawes is Rector of Edenham with Witham on the Hill and Rural Dean of Beltisloe, in the diocese of Lincoln.