Genesis 4: 3 Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.
4. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
5. but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Both God and Cain faced the same problem: what to do with the reality of free and independent wills when the will of another does not agree with your own.
I do start with the presumption that Cain’s intention was right to begin with. He came offering a gift representing his best work, his hard work. I am not surprised he found it hard to be rejected. Was God disbelieving Cain’s heart intentions? Weren’t Cain’s intentions the same as Abel’s in bringing God a sacrifice?
Yet God appears to be considering more than the interior intentions. The ways those intentions were expressed were also important to God. It seems to be the case that how you say it is just as important as what you say.
I have pondered the dilemma myself in a way that surprised me. In the past two and a half years I’ve met a dozen or so different therapists who tried to help me recover from the stroke. They would carefully describe moves, and closely watch me, as I tried to follow their instructions. When I revisited them in the days following, they would correct and tweak my movements if I was not following their original instructions. I wasn’t trying not to listen. But I was fascinated by the growing collection of variations I was being shown by different therapists in very similar exercises. Everyone had the same intentions. And everyone had different benchmarks they believed were the key to my progress. I had no way to tell who was right. My progress — what there was of it — didn’t seem, to my eyes, to vary all that much regardless of whose instruction I was trying to follow.
I realized it was pointless to argue about it. I was happy to stipulate that their intentions were good. I didn’t doubt their good faith in trying to hand on what they had been taught. These therapists were professionals who had earned the right to be listened to.
Their best efforts had, in a sense, nothing to do with the results I was seeing or not seeing. I began to think that results in my physical recovery were not what God was using these experiences for. I was supposed to learn the simple lessons of submission, patience, obedience. Learning those lessons was important even if I remained physically crippled (for now).
The same lessons were there for me to learn after the therapists left and Melanie tried to pick up their instructions and keep them fresh in my mind.
The intentions were the same, even if the results, or lack of them, also seemed the same.
I got to thinking God had the same problem as Cain because God’s intentions (of a close relationship with Adam and his children) was also being frustrated. What God had done in the Creation was all good. How come the results now were not?
Because Cain thought he had an equally good idea, even a better idea. And I can recognize the pattern. “Your intentions are fine but listen to my idea!” My idea might even be fine for one set of results. But they will not build the connection, the relationship, that God is more interested in.
What is important is what He wants, not what I want.