Am I Really All That Different Than Cain?


“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 

LUKE 22:39–42

Many of us look at the story of Cain in Genesis 4 with a sense of self-justification. We are unlike Cain, we think; after all, we have not killed our brother.

Yet many of us behave very much like Cain. In response to God’s question about Abel’s whereabouts, Cain made two denials. First, he denied that he knew what had happened to Abel. That, of course, was clearly a lie. The second denial is probably more common to our experience than we would care to admit. Rhetorically, Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Here, Cain denied to God that his brother’s whereabouts (and, moreover, his brother’s welfare) was his concern. While very, very few of us have committed murder, all of us have denied that the welfare of others is our responsibility. Too often, in an attempt to justify our own inaction, we have asked, in one way or another, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Sociologists have noted that this lack of responsibility for the welfare of others grows exponentially when the number of potential helpers to a particular need also grows. They call this phenomenon “the bystander effect.” Human nature, it seems, is always ready to assume that someone else will take care of those in need—I do not need to bother, I do not need to act.

Surely someone else will. Surely someone else is better equipped.

The welfare of our brothers is always our business. The responsibility can never rightly be pushed away; rightly, it must be taken up.


Click to zoom pull quote



1. Can you ask yourself the hard question: Am I really all that different than Cain?

2. How often have you turned away from an injustice thinking that either it was none of your business or surely someone else would intervene?

Bernie A. Van De Walle is Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Ambrose University College and Seminary. Bernie has served in pastoral and elder roles in Alliance congregations and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the C&MA in Canada. His study of A.B. Simpson and the C&MA, The Heart of the Gospel, has been translated into Vietnamese and Chinese, with translations into Korean, Spanish, and French in the works.

4 comments on “Am I Really All That Different Than Cain?

  1. As the church becomes more aware of injustices, this is a good thing. We must never ignore them. Years ago, we were advised by the church, to ignore a horrible injustice, that it would go away by itself if we just didn’t deal with it. These things never ‘go away’, but rather fester, and come back to haunt us. We must never let sin and injustice pass us by. To not address it, will have eternal consequences.

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