blood pours through my veins,
giving me life.
my head and heart and soul
are full of blood.
maybe that’s why i have
such bloody thoughts, bloody desires,
bloody dreams.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you
do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is
crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
—God’s warning to Cain when he became jealous of
his younger brother Abel (Genesis 4:6-7 NIV)

“What is it, Cain? What do you want?”

Abel had repeated the question twice now, and I still hadn’t answered. I just stared at him, wondering if I could really do it, if I could really carry it out. So many thoughts were racing through my mind. He’s your brother, Cain . . . God warned you about your anger . . . You don’t have to do this . . .

But then, another voice.

Who does God think he is, telling me what to do? I’ll do what I want to do!

“Cain?”

And then I remembered how it felt when I first had the idea. It was like a chill that passes over you when the wind blows across your face at night. Except this time the chill stayed. Everything dies, Cain. The sheep, the birds . . . You’re just helping things along . . .

“Cain, are you okay?”

“There’s something I want to talk to you about,” I said finally.

“Yes?”

“Not here. Let’s go for a walk, over there, in the field.”

Abel glanced at the fertile floodplain and then back at me. He paused for a moment and then shrugged. “Okay, whatever.”

He doesn’t suspect a thing!

I led him toward the tall grasses that would hide everything. They’ll keep your secret, I told myself. No one will ever find out!

Still, I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. I mean, I’d killed animals before. I knew what that was like. I knew how their bodies twitched and stiffened and slowly cooled, then warmed again and began to stink in the aftermath of death. I didn’t know if it would be the same for people. No one had ever died before.

Sharp brambles bit into my hands and legs like teeth as we entered the field, drawing blood. No surprise there. It seems like thorns are growing everywhere these days. Abel was saying something about his flock of stupid sheep, but I wasn’t listening. I was leading him somewhere specific.

I was only a step or two in front of him. Only a few more feet. Then he placed his hand on my shoulder. “Cain, what is it? Where are we going? What did you want to talk to me about?”

In answer I bent down and grabbed the rock. I knew right where it’d be. I’d put it there earlier in the day. It was about the size of a goat’s head; I figured that would be big enough. In one smooth motion I stood, raising the rock above my head and turning toward him. Abel stared at me curiously. He didn’t seem to understand what was going on, what the wickedly jagged rock was for.

Then, right before I brought it down as hard as I could against his skull, fear clouded his face. The last thing my brother knew was terror.

As the rock connected with his head, I heard a deep crunch, somehow moist and solid at the same time. The force of the blow snapped his head awkwardly to the right, twisting his whole body around. He landed with a dull thud on the dark, rich soil, his body twitching slightly.

I walked over to him.

Make sure, a voice told me. Make sure he’s dead. I stood above him and looked into his eyes. They looked different. Faraway, distant, unfocused. Maybe that’s what death was like—losing focus forever. My heart was racing, my head spinning.

So this is what it feels like to kill a man, I thought. Finish him! Finish him!

I raised the rock and brought it down again. I had to do it three or four times before the twitching stopped for good. Then everything was silent except for the distant cry of a few crows. And all was still except for the growing pool of thick, dark blood seeping slowly into the earth.

Afterward the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know!” Cain retorted. “Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?”

But the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen—your brother’s
blood cries out to me from the ground!”
Genesis 4:9-10

After the harmony was shattered and Adam and Eve had to leave Eden, Eve had two sons. But the divine image God had imprinted on humanity’s soul had become marred forever. The boys resembled their father more than their Father. And as they grew, they just couldn’t seem to get along. Jealousy and bitterness and resentment and hatred wormed their way into Cain’s heart. Sin rang his doorbell, and he threw open the door and invited it in for dinner and a movie.

It didn’t take long for blood to stain the pages of our story. And it’s a stain that has never really washed away.

One day when I was in high school my parents left me home alone with my younger brother while they ran errands. I was supposed to watch him. Well, we argued about something dumb, I have no idea what, and in a rage I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a knife—not a butter knife but one of those horror movie knives designed for slicing meat from bone.

I stood there shaking, the knife blade reflecting back a distorted, angular version of my face. I had a choice. I could either set down the knife and go outside to shoot baskets, or I could walk into the living room and stab my little brother in the chest.

A moment later I finally came to my senses. I dropped the knife onto the table, where its clatter echoed like high-pitched laughter. I escaped into my room, my heart jackhammering in my chest, scared of what I could have so easily done, so easily become.

My dad told me that when he was a kid, his brother hit him in the head with a hammer.

As I write this, thousands of people in Darfur, Sudan, are being systematically massacred and starved to death each week by the Sudanese government. The United Nations has criticized it but hasn’t taken any definitive steps to stop it. Just over a decade ago, more than 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda, most of them cut to pieces with machetes, before anyone stepped in to stop the slaughter.

In the twentieth century, one out of every twenty-two human deaths was caused by another human.

can poison taste of nectar?
can venom taste of wine?
yes, for we have licked the fruit and plucked it from the vine.
yes, for we have tasted evil, succulent and sweet,
and passed it on for others,
to lick, and taste,
and eat.

Anger and envy still infect our relationships. Hatred still haunts us. Violence still stalks us. This whole story of Cain’s nosedive into evil is chillingly familiar. Evil still crouches at the door, ready to pounce. We hear the doorbell ring and we rise from the couch to see who’s there.

The first human ever born murdered the second. It seems both tragic and ironic to me. But it’s not the kind of irony that makes me want to laugh. Not at all.

As time went by, evil grew stronger and stronger in the hearts of men, until finally: “The LORD observed the extent of the people’s wickedness, and he saw that all their thoughts were consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them. It broke his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).

Evil had embedded itself deeply into the human story.

When I’m honest with myself, I can’t keep up the illusion that I’m really a pretty good person. Deep down, coursing through my soul, are the same currents of jealousy and resentment and bitterness and rebellion that surfaced in the life of Cain. The currents flow all throughout our human family, deadly and deep—currents as old as Eden and as thick as blood. And sometimes they bubble to the surface when we least expect it.

touching the unseen

with bloodstained thoughts and a bloodstained heart
i come to you.
what will it take to wash off these stains?
what will it take to purge my past?

cain is not just abel’s brother.
that much i know.
he is also mine.

guilty.