The gifts of Cain

Cain's story of sin holds special relevance for us today.

Genesis begins in wonder and mystery. We learn of God’s creation and provision for this world. We discover his care for the creatures he made, especially humans. And we hear how sin entered the Garden of Eden. These events frame our understanding of the rest of Scripture.

But there are other stories we tend to overlook. Take Cain. Once he kills Abel, we tend to lose track of him, as if he simply drifts away. But Genesis tells us much about Cain’s sin, subsequent life and descendants, and I believe his story holds special relevance for us today.

You know the basic points: Cain murders Abel. God punishes Cain by exiling him, but also still shows love by putting a protective sign on him so that others will not kill him in turn. However, it is the following verses (Gen. 4:17–24) that particularly interest me for their implications for us today.

For here we find the beginning of civilization, and perhaps surprisingly it is Cain and his descendants from which it springs. While Cain builds the first city, his offspring Lamech and his three sons develop multiple important aspects of civilization: Jabel sets up tents and herds livestock, Jubal is the first musician and their half brother Tubalcain makes tools from bronze and iron.

Contrast this with Adam and Eve’s other family line, which starts with Seth and goes to Noah (Gen. 5:1–32). There is no mention of civilization. Only individuals’ ages are listed, and in the seventh generation Enoch walks with God and God takes him.

Expect gifts

What does it mean that the arts, all technology and implicitly science itself find their beginnings in a line that has been exiled and contains two murderers (Cain and Lamech)? The other line, which will eventually lead to the birth of the Son of God, shows no particular skills or abilities to develop the advances that have blessed us all. Imagine a worship service without music, or life without metal. All these things can, and unfortunately are, used for evil but we also use them to praise God and to improve our lives.

God’s blessings clearly flow even to those who do not explicitly worship him and may have turned away from him. Science has often been seen as conflicting with our understanding of the Bible. Galileo and Darwin provide two examples where, at least initially, the church had trouble seeing the richness of creation that modern science brings to us. We now see the cosmos as more extensive and grander than an earlier earth-centered version. And the science of evolution describes a richness of the origins of life which reveals a Creator who endows his creation with endless possibilities.

The gifts of Cain’s family make me wonder what we can learn from the gifts God gives to our secular world. Are there things we in the church need to listen to from the social sciences? Will these findings also shape our understanding of Scripture in initially painful but ultimately enriching ways? Where is the Spirit working today and leading us? I can only hope we seek out the gifts of God wherever they appear.


  • Rudy Eikelboom

    Rudy Eikelboom is a Professor of Psychology, at Wilfrid Laurier University, who has emerged from the dark side of the University after being department chair for 9 years and now teaches behavioural statistics to graduate and undergraduate psychology students. His retirement looms and he is looking forward to doing more writing on the implications of modern science for our Christian faith. Currently, he serves as a pastoral elder at the Waterloo Christian Reformed Church.

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