Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Seeing Cain as a Fugitive in Ourselves

Posted by kirkcaudle on February 6, 2010

While reading the Book of Moses this week (5:35-42), some new thoughts and insights came to me that I have not previously stumbled upon regarding Cain and his curse. As always, I do not offer up my interpretation of scripture as the “correct” way to read the text, but I hope it will add in some way to your own understanding.  

After Cain kills his brother, the Lord sets a curse upon him. I read the curse as Cain becoming “a fugitive and vagabond” (v36). Becoming a fugitive is “greater than [Cain] can bear” (v38).  Which got me thinking, what exactly is a fugitive, and what is so bad about it? A fugitive is one who runs from the law. A fugitive is running, but can only run so far. His negative outcome is inevitable. Justice is never far behind.

It is interesting to note that although Cain is cursed, he still has what we often believe brings the most happiness, a family. He goes to the land of Nod (v41), and had many sons and daughters. His son even built a city (v42). Minus the cursing, this almost reads like a happily ever after story.

Although the cursing of Cain is to be a fugitive, he is also “shut out from the presence of the Lord” (v41). Now I would say this is the second part of the cursing, but I do not think that is true. I think the Lord just said the same thing twice, each time in a different way. Cain is shut out of the presence of God, and is therefore necessarily running from the inevitable eternal justice of the Law.

I think we are like Cain at times. We can have a nice family, go to church, read our scriptures, have FHE, etc. but not be ok with the Lord. When we sin, the Lord can shut us out of his presence by withdrawing the Holy Ghost. When the Holy Ghost withdraws from us, we cannot feel the happiness we desire from the things that should bring us happiness; or under normal circumstances do bring us happiness.

Anyone that has ever needed to repent of something in his or her life, and pushed the feeling away, becomes as Cain. We become fugitives from justice, running from God, ignorantly believing that He cannot see our hiding places. This is when we feel our lives are too much to bear. In truth, I think without the calming influence of the Holy Ghost they can be.

Therefore, if you feel like you are a fugitive from justice because you have been shut out from the presence of God, feel free to turn yourself in.  God is merciful to those who do not run from His justice. For, “God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).

14 Responses to “Seeing Cain as a Fugitive in Ourselves”

  1. joespencer said

    Nice reading, Kirk. I like this.

  2. J. Madson said

    One of the many interesting aspects of this story, I have an entire chapter on this foundational story, is how civilization comes to be. Cain is the founder of civilization. Cain is promised by the Lord that he will be protected but like many of us, he instead relies on the arm of the flesh.

    We likewise resort to revenge, vengeance, etc. the very things that the Lord forbids in this story. Even though Cain is a murderer and even though he is guilty God marks him so that no one will kill him. But rather than rely on God’s mercy, Cain becomes a fugitive as Kirk notes.

    To a large extent, we are all fugitives in our modern world. We flee God’s justice, we flee at-one-ment (ie resolving our differences and becoming one), all the while inflicting, what we believe is justice, on our brothers and sisters. Civilization is killing us.

    We all share in the guilt that Cain has. How do we know? Just ask ourselves, where is our brother? Our brother may be suffering from abject poverty, our brother may be dying from bombs from planes he never knew were above him, or any number of difficulties. But we are all fugitives, fugitives from not just God’s mercy but from showing mercy to those around us.

  3. That is very good insight. Thank you!

  4. RobF said

    If Bigfoot=Cain and Cain=Us, then we are Bigfoot? :-)

  5. kirkcaudle said

    I actually have a pretty funny Cain as Bigfoot story, haha.

  6. BrianJ said

    Kirk: “Minus the cursing, this almost reads like a happily ever after story.” Ha! I love it.

    It’s also interesting that the Lord doesn’t insist on having Cain be killed.

  7. joespencer said

    Brian,

    Rene Girard’s reading of the Cain/Abel story begins with the fact that the Lord doesn’t insist on having Cain be killed. He argues, and I think convincingly, that that detail is the key to making sense of the story.

  8. kirkcaudle said

    Brian, I think Cain being forced to live out his days on earth (I do not think he is still alive) is part of his punishment. Living with guilt can be one of the worst pains.

    Joe, I will have to check out Girard’s reading on that. Sounds good.

  9. BrianJ said

    Joe: please expand. What does Girard propose is the major interpretive change wrought by that detail?

    Kirk: why would God want to punish Cain? Why can’t living out his life be part of Cain’s redemption?

  10. kirkcaudle said

    Brian, this might seem little minded of me, but to be honest, I have always thought about Cain as a son of perdition. Therefore, I never considered reading the text in light of Cain’s redemption. But maybe I should?

    If Cain is being redeemed, what is he being redeemed from? After all, we know he was “called Perdition” even “before the world” was created (Moses 5:24). Are you suggesting his roaming was part of a repentance process, or perhaps a chance to rid himself of his curse?

    I would like to hear more of your thoughts along these lines.

  11. BrianJ said

    Kirk: maybe I’m too much of a softy to dwell on perdition… ;)

    It really makes no sense though, at least the interpretation that seems to flow most readily from the “Cain was Perdition even before he was born.” Without arguing about just exactly what it means to be Perdition (i.e., whether anyone truly is ever eternally/forever cast off or whether they might choose later to repent), why would God send someone who was already “lost” to this earth? If it doesn’t benefit that spirit in some way, then what’s the point—unless, of course, we just really needed some truly evil spirits walking around (in which case Cain was just being used by God to do something evil and the Question of Evil comes into play). It’s late and I’m sorta rambling, but I think my point is still clear enough.

    But my question really had more to do with punishment per se, and not Cain/Perdition. In fact, I liked thinking of ourselves as Cain, so the whole question about “perdition” gets thrown out the window because (presumably) none of us are perdition. Why would God want to punish me or you or anyone? If it’s not for my own good and it’s not to protect someone from me, then what’s the point? What if Cain was allowed to do all those happy things because one really good way to teach people to be loving is to give them something to love? Is sorrow the only way to bring about repentance, or can joy be just as effective?

  12. joespencer said

    Brian,

    The short version of Girard’s reading:

    For Girard, society/culture is launched in response to some foundational violence. Because of a situation of what he calls mimetic violence (violence between two people who are mythically described as having come to be indiscernible… two brothers, usually), people recognize the need to establish a system that will maintain differentiation (anti-mimetic laws), and that will focus the natural violence towards which people are inclined. He thus sees the Cain story as being the story of the foundation of society: a mimetic situation leads to murder, and this is followed by the prescription of a ritual system meant to keep violence from happening. (The prohibition of murdering Cain is associated with a sevenfold ritualistic system: murder will call for a sevenfold sacrifice, etc.) Girard further points out that Cain’s children go on to invent all the basic trappings of society: the crafts, the arts, and an actual city, etc.

    That’s a cheap summary, but it is a summary. :)

  13. kirkcaudle said

    Brian, when talking about Cain I don’t think we can separate him from perdition. When seeing Cain as ourselves, we definitly can, and in fact, must. I agree. You raise some great questions. I have thoughts on a few of them, but fully developed views on even fewer. However, that is common with most of my views on the gospel, most are in a constant state of influx.

    The question of evil really gnaws at me. Of course, I have studied the various historical viewpoints written on the subject, but it is still puzzling. Your first paragraph just brought some old questions back to my mind.

    I really liked this question, “Why would God want to punish me or you or anyone? If it’s not for my own good and it’s not to protect someone from me, then what’s the point?”

    So in short, this response gives no answers. Your comments just made me think.

  14. BrianJ said

    Joe: thanks for the summary. I thought maybe Girard was talking in terms of Cain’s release being key to understanding God’s response, but the part about civilization is quite interesting too.

    Kirk: All I have are questions too!

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