Skip to main content

Cain and Abel Metaphysically Interpreted

Biblical Favorites by Jim Lewis

Gen. 4

Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel—Ghent Alterpiece A

You and I are being influenced today in our lives by ideas and concepts that have been handed down to us for thousands of years. Much of this information has been fairly good and has led to some progress. Much we have not yet comprehended. And much has been mistaken or false. It is important that we learn to let the spirit of truth be our guide so that we can grow in spiritual understanding. We must be willing to open our minds, so to speak, and consider new ideas about life, about ourselves, about God and the nature of God, and about the universe in which we live. We must also be willing to change our viewpoints about the Bible.

What we see in the Bible will be largely determined by our view of it. Do we see it as a history book, a record of man’s development from the beginning of time? What is our world view? Do we think in terms of beginnings and endings? Origen, a 2nd century Christian teacher, considered the greatest in his day, has written, “For just as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does the scripture, which has been prepared by God to be given for man’s salvation.” He felt that as an individual grew in spiritual understanding he would come to realize the deeper spiritual teaching in the Bible.

Regarding the three levels suggested by Origen, he said that the body of scripture would be the obvious meaning, the literal or historical. Soul would be the moral and ethical teaching such as the ten commandments, the beatitudes, the expression of love and faith and all the other good qualities of character that would lead to happiness. Spirit would be the teaching regarding true Reality, Principle, Being, or God. Spirit would be the teaching about the absolute, for God is the Absolute and never changes. God is eternal, without beginning or end. Body and soul teaching would be relative teaching, for it is constantly changing. History or at least what we think of as history in the Bible is constantly coming under investigation. As we discover more about ancient civilizations through archaeology and the finding of old documents and records, our view of history, secular and Biblical, is constantly changing also. It doesn’t take much observation to see that our morals and ethics are also changing.

Origen also taught that there would be times when a historical or body level interpretation of scripture would not make sense. He says, “But since there are certain passages of scripture which . . . have no bodily (literal) sense at all, there are occasions when we must seek only for the soul and the spirit, as it were, of the passage.” The story of Cain and Abel is one of those passages. If we try to interpret it simply historically, if we try to think of it as an incident in the actual evolutionary development of man, we will lose much of the story’s rich meaning. There is no way that this story can be verified scientifically. But spiritually it offers a great deal of help to us today after thousands of years of being told.

The story is basically this. Adam and Eve, who are supposed to be the first two individuals created by God, had two sons. Cain the first born was a tiller of the soil. Abel the second born was a tender of sheep. One day they both brought an offering to God. We are told that Cain’s vegetable offering was rejected by God but that Abel’s offering of an animal from his flock was readily accepted. Cain was very distraught over this. God says to Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth (coucheth) at the door.” (Gen. 4:7) This statement of cause and effect was no comfort to Cain. He was enraged and filled with jealousy because his younger brother’s offering was accepted by God.

It is easy to understand how Cain would feel. Here he spent all his time growing the vegetables and was proud what he was bringing to God and now God is rejecting the offering. Cain invited his brother to come visit him in the fields. When Abel came out Cain killed him in a fit of jealous rage. Later the Lord asks Cain where his brother is. Cain : he does not know. He is lying but he does not deceive God. Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord then lets Cain know that He knows that Cain killed his brother. The Lord tells Cain that as a result he will be cursed forever. He is also told that tilling the earth will be even more difficult for him in the future. He will be a fugitive and a wanderer. Cain claims the punishment is too much for him to bear. He claims that everyone will want to kill him. But the Lore assures him this will not happen. The Lord puts a “mark” upon Cain which is supposed to protect him. What was this mark? There has been much scholarly speculation about it and it seems that the scholars have decided this is based on mistranslation and that actually it should read that he was given a “sign.”

Cain goes out from the presence of the Lord and lives in the land of Nod which is east of Eden. He has a child and names him Enoch and builds a city and names it after the child. According to the records Enoch lived 365 years and was translated. This means that he did not die like his relatives but that he ascended bodily into heaven.

Now that we know some of the details of the story let us consider some reasons why, as Origen would say, this story does not and cannot make any sense as scientific history. For one thing the story implies that there is already a large population on the earth. Cain was afraid that “everyone” would kill him. Who were all these people who may never have heard of Cain who would want to kill him? If Adam and Eve were the first two people and Cain and Abel their children, where did the wife of Cain come from, the wife that bore his child named Enoch? Why would Cain want to build a city? If he was banished to the land of Nod to become a fugitive and a wanderer how could he continue to be a farmer? He would have to settle down to grow crops.

The story is an allegory. Adam and Eve were not the first two created beings. You and I have always existed and we will always continue to exist. There never was a time when you and I did not have existence somewhere in this great and vast universe. We must not think of the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel as the evolutionary development of the human race, for that is not the way we began. It is not even the way we began when we first came to planet earth.

Now the moral lesson of the story is rather easy to perceive. Jealousy and rejection if not properly controlled can lead to the committing of murder and this can lead to lying when the murderer is trying to cover up his crime. You will note in the story that Cain was not punished by God killing him. In fact God said he would be protected, which means that he is important in the interpretation of the story on the spiritual level. Cain was also the father of farmers and people who are artists. He had a famous grandchild called TubalCain. The word Cain means “smith.” Tubal was a district in Asia Minor where many of these artificers or metal workers lived and did their creative work. Tubal-Cain simply means a smith from Tubal. East of Eden would be Persia and that is a long way from Asia Minor. So here again we have good reason to question the historicity of the story. In a literal search for meaning we would have to ask the question, why God would reject Cain’s offering? Is this just a farmer and cattleman story of conflict?

When we seek the spiritual meaning of the story we find that it makes a great deal of sense. Abel means “breath, vapor.” He represents the spirit in us, the inspiration and intuitive guidance that come to us when our consciousness is impregnated with spiritual ideas or divine guidance. The offering of the animal is the willingness to give life or expression to these spiritual ideas. The ancients believed that the life of man was in the blood. Blood was used to purify individuals and things. Blood was sprinkled on individuals, wiped upon articles, and used in various ways in sacrificial offerings. The ancients believed that the gods would come visit them on planet earth. The Hebrews believed that their God was in the temple in Jerusalem. It was believed that the food that the gods loved the best was the blood and suet animals and therefore the blood was drained from the animal and used in many ways. Even in Christianity the idea tha blood or the shedding of blood of an innocent victim bring purification and salvation is very well known. Some Christians still sing the old hymn about being “washed in the blood the Lamb.” Jesus is supposed to be the lamb and his death or the cross was the purifying process that frees all sinners who will believe in Him or believe in this theory about Him.

Abel making the animal offering to the Lord is our acknowledgement and willingness to give life or expression the Lord of our Being, the Absolute, and to the principles in life that He reveals to us. When we seek to express unconditional love we are seeking to give love our life’s expression. The same applies to all spiritual ideas. We are seeking to give life and expression to our divine guidance. When we are sincere in wanting to do God’s will, as it is also expressed, we do even the mundane things of life with joy, eagerness, and interest.

The Cain in us does not always like this. He can be related to the ego or the intellect. Being a “tiller of the soil” has nothing to do with farming. The soil is the soil of consciousness. Cain has a rightful and important place in us and in our expression of spiritual ideas. However, the Cain method cannot and does not have the capacity to give life to or expression to Reality. It seeks to till the soil of consciousness with human desires. It seeks personal glory and satisfaction from outer accomplishment. It is more interested in getting things than it is in being the expression of living realities. It is more willing and interested in developing what can be seen instead of the abstract Realities that are eternal, enduring, and which really give life and meaning to our existence. A person under the Cain influence would no doubt rather spend an hour doing something in the outer instead of an hour in meditation. He would rather watch TV than read a book of noble ideas. He would rather spend his time indulging in the senses for pleasure than stimulating the mind with spiritual ideas. He would rather spend his time trying to manifest or demonstrate what he thinks will make him happy and successful than to spend his time accepting and trying to give life, energy, and vitality to the spiritual ideas revealed to him by his own indwelling Spirit.

Rejection of Cain’s offering does not mean rejection of the ego. It does not mean that God rejects us as human beings. It only means that the great spiritual realities of life cannot be achieved through personal effort alone, they cannot be achieved just by tilling the soil of consciousness. However, this seems to be the method and technique systems of much New Thought or Metaphysical teaching today. We have many metaphysical sophists who go around the country teaching people how to get things, how to achieve success, how to get healing, how to get anything one wants by influencing the subconscious mind. The Cain in us, the personal ego, searches for a formula to make the soil of consciousness produce some outer condition or get some thing that it thinks will be satisfying. And it does produce. It produces the vegetable offering that is not accepted by the Lord.

This story is telling us that this method of trying to demonstrate will be very hard and difficult. Just try to demonstrate anything through mental effort. Just try and see how difficult it is to get your subconscious to manifest something for you, even something that you should have, such as a healing. You can read all the books, say the mental statements and you may only get meagre results. You can visualize, treat, affirm, work at it in the outer and still not achieve the glorious results that you could and can achieve through spiritual means. When we let go, when we make an offering of Abel, we find the Spirit working and moving through us. We do not have to go out searching for ideas to manipulate. We find that they come expressing through us. Things we have never thought of or even considered will come forth into our conscious minds. Insight about ourselves and our potential is discovered and realized. We begin to believe we can do things which to the human Cain thinking we would not have thought possible.

The Cain side of our nature is often impatient and jealous. It takes things into its own hands. It tries to force demonstrations. It tries to make things happen even when it knows they are not right. It kills out the spiritual guidance and seeks to force its own personal desires into expression. Instead of being willing to let go and follow the inner spiritual guidance it tries to get the Lord to do its bidding. The Cain ir us goes to the Lord with many requests. Instead of doing this we should go to the Lord with an open mind and let the Lord, the divine presence within us, fill us with the ideas that are right for us.

As a result of all this personal self-seeking the individual under the influence of the Cain type of thinking dwells in the land of Nod. Nod means confusion and represents the discouragement and disappointment and fear one experiences when he works on the personal level without any regard to spiritual guidance. It fears it will not get the things it wants. It fears that it will be killed or denied experience and expression. It does not realize that greater things and experiences will be given on the spiritual level. The spiritual level frees one from the negative human ambition of self-seeking and competition.

What is the “mark” on Cain? Or we might ask, “What was the sign given to Cain?” It is not something physical. It is the sign of limitation. It is the sign of inefficiency and lack that one can obviously see when he is working on the personal, human level. We cannot kill out Cain, for we will use the soil of consciousness to give life and expression to the divine plan that is seeking to express through us. The divine plan will include the doing of many human and what seem to be worldly things. We will do those worldly things more easily and find joy and happiness in doing them. If you get an idea in a time of meditation or if one comes to your conscious mind while you are busy doing something in life and if you reject that idea thinking it is too hard to accept, too difficult to express, or that it is impractical and will not work, then Cain is killing Abel. If you kill the desire to forgive, Cain kills Abel. Every time a noble idea is denied expression, every time a desire to overcome an undesirable habit is refused, then Cain kills Abel. Cain kills many Abels in us. But the wonderful part about it is that there will always be a new child born. Adam and Eve gave birth to Seth. Seth means “substitute.” The spiritual will continually reassert itself. Something in us always wants to come back to God, the Lord of our Being. Something in us wants to continue our search for God and spiritual realities and we want to do this no matter how rich we become in the outer world.

We should always remember that the search for God and the desire to make the spiritual offering, to give our life energy, vitality, and strength to the expression of God ideas will bring forth in us and in our lives the greatest good, the greatest happiness, health, and security.

© 1985, Jim Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.