In The Field

Chapter 14 of The Way of Abel

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Genesis 4:8

The brothers stand amid the barley. The sun has reached the horizon. The air cools as night falls.

“This is quite a crop, Cain.”

“Yes, it’s coming in well.” He leans on his hoe and wipes his brow. “A lot of work.”

“Is this why you asked me to come out here?” He doesn’t really expect an answer. He looks back toward the camp. “It’s getting late. Shouldn’t we get back by the fire?”

“I have to tell you: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since our conversation the other night. I’ve made some firm decisions, brother.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve really found a sense of peace.”

“Oh, Cain! Thank God! You believe at last!”

The older brother smiles weakly. “I’ve truly decided to commit myself fully to God.”

The younger one represses an urge to frown. “That sounds good. How do you mean?”

“I mean, take God at his word. Rededicate myself. Serve him.”

The young one hesitates. “I, ah, think you missed the point.”

“Nonsense.”

“Brother, I must tell you plainly: That path is sure to lead to frustration. Wretchedness.”

“And how would you know? Since when have you ever even tried to be virtuous?”

“I know enough to know it’s a dead end.”

The older one’s voice is measured, emotionless. “Virtue is a dead end? Can you even hear yourself? You are nothing to me now. You don’t know how hard I’ve worked to be faithful and please God. And all I ever get from you is worthless platitudes and riddles. And God demands more of me. Fine, I’ll play it His way. I’ll work harder. Not that He seems to be asking much of you, I notice.”

“Please, brother, just stop, step back, take stock of your life!”

“Oh, I have. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’ve found there’s really only one obstacle to my happiness.”

“Yes, that’s right, isn’t it? Remove that obstacle! Oh, Cain, you’re starting to understand what I’ve been saying all this time! You can’t win this thing! It’s a battle you can only lose! Surrender now, ask for terms of peace! I know how hard it is: You sacrifice yourself, your pride, your independence, your self-reliance, but in the end you have joy. Real joy, Cain! Something you’ve had too little of. Come, we’ll pray right here. Kneel with me. Ask for mercy.”

“I’ll stand, thanks.”

“Go ahead and pray.”

The older one shuts his eyes and begins to pray. “God, I thank you that I am not like… others. I am dedicated, I fast regularly, and I offer a tenth of my crops…”

“You seem to be praying to yourself.”

“Excuse me?”

“Is this how you always pray?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“But you’re commending yourself on your goodness. That’s not prayer.”

“I really don’t want to hear another lecture from you.”

“Open your heart and seek Him. Stop trying to be something you can’t be. I’ve made peace with God, just by… well just by giving up. It works, Cain!”

“Giving up? Never! I’m not doing that. That would be direct disobedience.”

“It’s the only way. You can’t be perfect. You can’t live up to His standard.”

“Show some respect! God would not mock me with an impossible commandment.”

“I think he’s trying you. Pushing you towards a better understanding. Acknowledge Him and learn to see yourself as He sees you.”

“What, as some kind of worm? No! Never!”

“Please stop this talk. Give yourself up. Surrender. Come, kneel with me.”

The young one kneels in the dirt. He is no taller than the barley.

“No, Abel. Your way is — undignified. As a man, I want to stand before God with my head held high.”

“No, no, no, Cain! That’s exactly what he doesn’t want from you. Come, kneel before God, with your head bowed low.”

“I’ve heard enough of your self-righteous garbage. It’s time to take drastic action.”

“God has so much joy he wants you to share in!”

“I can’t believe I have to commit such a violent, bloody act just to find peace!”

The young one’s face is to the ground. “But it’s true, Cain! You can have peace! Come, kneel here!”

“Very well. If He wants blood, He shall have blood.”

“Yes! You can end your misery now! Come; kneel beside me. Cry out to Him for mercy.”

“Lord, have mercy on me. Forgive me for what I am about to do.”

The sharp hoe sinks into the younger brother’s neck, like fallow earth. A frightened dove flutters up from the barley. Insects fill the sudden silence. Abel’s body is still. His lifeblood flows back into the soil.

The older brother returns to the fire, alone, weeping, in the gathering darkness.

Cain Slays Abel.

Cain Slays Abel.

 

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