“Later Cain brought some crops from the land as an offering to the Lord. Abel also brought some choice parts of the firstborn animals from his flock. The Lord approved of Abel and his offering, but He didn’t approve of Cain and his offering. So Cain became very angry and was disappointed.
Then the Lord asked Cain, “Why are you angry, and why are you disappointed? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do well, sin is lying outside your door ready to attack. It wants to control you, but you must master it. Cain talked to his brother Abel. Later, when they were in the fields, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis 4:3-8
(God’s Word Translation)
In all of my years of working with other human beings I can’t tell you how many families I’ve seen utterly devastated as a result of sin. To be clear, not just because of sin, but rather because sin was ignored and permitted. Whether it was in a personal relationship or an institution, the reoccurring scheme of destructiveness always seemed to run a familiar course. First the grievous act or violation was performed in full view of those directly victimized by it –they were totally blind to it until it was uncovered…then all knew something had been wrong all along.
For example, why do spouses ignore all the signs of infidelity when every concrete clue cries out for exposure? Why do ethically good people make truly despicable choices such as to defraud companies they’ve lead for years? Why do parents defy all degrees of evidence their child is acting out in ways that will either lead to future incarceration or worse, death? What is it that allows a loving and good-hearted person to allow people they love to be mistreated and physically abused? Why have people – in overwhelming numbers – chosen to ignore the consequences of great pain in full view of present proof?
Recently as I began this series on Fatherhood: It’s Purpose and Privilege I became abruptly aware of a blind spot I had been oblivious to for a number of years. I could blame it on my being the sole-provider; too busy at the end of my long day to stop and give adequate attention to the complaints of my wife. Or I could attribute my laissez-faire attitude towards the behaviors Kay would share with me as though they were nothing more than the childhood antics of a young boy. In any event, no matter what excuse I had been operating under, the truth was that I found myself in the abysmal state of negotiating the truth that my son – my wonderful son – was in truth, a boy like any other boy. A boy with the tendencies to disobey, defy and even to some lesser degree, dishonor his parents.
I have since then resigned myself to consciously asking the difficult questions I at one time thought were too hastily suggested. It is not as though I ever thought of my son as perfect. I know from whose loins he sprang. Yet, there was for some reason my resistance to entertain the possibility that he could have such marks of rebellion within his heart.
I also do not believe I am alone in this state of denial either. All I have to do is walk the halls of any school, grocery store, amusement park, or church parking lot on a Sunday morning and I find fellow Ostriches’ who would all too much rather believe what they want to, rather than accept the glaring truth pulling at their pant leg.
Margaret Heffernan says in her book entitled “Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril”:
“We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs.”
She points out that there are many reasons people will ignore the obvious. Some more complex than others, but all soundly human. She borrows a legal concept established in the 19th century that has become commonly known as ‘connivance’ or ‘constructive knowledge’. This is knowledge that a person has but refuses to see or heed.
Unfortunately, for the person who refuses to see the evidence in front of them and continues in accommodating a suspicious act, the law is clear. If you could have known and should have known something, but choose to not see or acknowledge it, you were guilty. The Law does not allow for ‘willful blindness’. Neither does the Lord God. We may choose to ignore the evidence right in front of us, but in the end the Bible declares in Hebrews 4:13 “No creature can hide from God. Everything is uncovered and exposed for Him to see. We must answer to Him.” (God’s Word Trans.)
We see willful blindness originating with Adam, the first man. In Genesis 4 read how Cain’s sacrifice was not regarded or accepted by God, but his younger brother Abel’s was. The result of which ended with Cain murdering Abel. I argue that as much as we can see clearly into the actions of Cain and Abel, what we are blind to are the actions of Adam, their father. I suggest Adam held a much more provocative role than the text openly reveals.
Adam and Eve, his wife, had been cast out of the Garden of Eden for disobeying God. They eventually had their first son, Cain, and subsequently Abel. From my personal life experiences, filled with regret and loss, I know something about having a life of comfort and then having to live with the natural consequences because of sin, guilt and shame. I can easily imagine how Cain would’ve heard the murmuring and complaining his father may have openly shared; so fresh out of Eden; now having to live life on life’s terms. Adam no longer had the pleasant covering of favor the Garden would have provided. He and Eve would have had to endure the elements. Now to eat from the earth that once gave forth its fruit easily, Adam and eventually Cain, would have to endlessly labor to enjoy its produce. Yes, Cain would’ve been in close proximity to Adams’ display of angst and frustration with God.
Cain, the first born who would gladly bear the family responsibilities with broad hope for an unfulfilled restoration to the Garden, I believe grew to resent God deeply in the core of his heart. The Bible never tells us exactly why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice but it does lead us to see how Cain held bitterness within his heart towards God which was ultimately enacted upon his baby brother Abel. When God confronted Cain with his pending crime, Cain does not even respond to God. Instead he now rejects God’s voice and seeks out Abel and kills him.
I know that Cain did not develop this sense of apathy towards God in a vacuum. I suggest that Cain grew up with a heart dispassionate towards God. A heart that was fashioned under the watchful eye of Adam’s willful blindness.
I’m convinced Adam saw the signs but choose not to see them. Perhaps he loved his son too much to confront him? I suggest Adam recognized himself in how Cain gathered his sacrifice, resentful for every thorn that pricked his hand. Cain grew up without a regard for pleasing God. God merely reciprocated. Adam blindly watched how Cain developed a sense of self rather than a heart of sacrifice towards God.
I believe within my own heart the reason I was oblivious toward my son’s defiance and his difficulty negotiating his emotions of anger lay at my feet. I see now how I have ignored the times his mother shared her thoughts and I did not want to accept the truth because it would challenge my perception of myself? I now accept how many times I have walked past him without challenging him as God did Cain when he asked him “Why are you angry and disappointed?” because it might disrupt the ideal I had created of my life, which allowed me to keep moving instead of taking pause and more interest in his heart.
Dr. Heffernan provides many various reasons but at the end of the day, the Bible gives me my answer. Just as Adam was blindly ignoring Cain’s attitude and heart towards God, we as fathers are also neglecting the purpose and privilege of cultivating the hearts of our children because we have not surrendered ourselves to Him completely. Then and only then will our sight be restored so that we may love courageously, uninhibited, unashamed and unbridled – as God loves us, His children.
God’s peace and journey well,
ΑΩ Rev. A. David Griffin, MDiv