“We are brothers”: The pain and hope that connect Cain and Abel to the war in Ukraine

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“We are brothers”: The pain and hope that connect Cain and Abel to the war in Ukraine

March 8, 2022 - Mark Turman

Cars line up waiting to get gasoline outside a gas station in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian troops have launched their anticipated attack on Ukraine. Big explosions were heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of an Russian invasion that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine's democratically elected government. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Cars line up waiting to get gasoline outside a gas station in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian troops have launched their anticipated attack on Ukraine. Big explosions were heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of an Russian invasion that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine's democratically elected government. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The sermon title decades ago caught my eye. I haven’t forgotten it: “If the dead could speak.” 

It was a great sermon built on Luke 16:19–31. This was my Easter sermon text last year. It was a unique angle on the greatest Sunday of the year. You might consider it. 

Many people refer to the last or most significant words that a now-dead person said to them. If the dead could speak to us, what would they say? What could we learn from them?

Pray for peace in Ukraine

Our attention continues to be hyper-focused on the war in Ukraine. The struggle between armies, the suffering of civilians, the worldwide political positioning, and the economic chaos being created are engulfing all of us. 

How can we not be outraged at President Putin for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being the unleashing of this nightmare on the heels of a two-year-old pandemic? 

Pray for peace. Pray for the people, especially the children. Pray for the leaders around the world who are seeking to address and end this crisis.

I’ve been enthralled by an embedded reporter who is posting regular stories from inside Ukraine. She has been in dangerous situations several times from Kyiv to the western side of the country. 

It is heartbreaking stuff. 

How much would you pay for gas?

On February 25, this New York Times reporter, Sabrina Tavernise, filed a story from Ukraine that included a short conversation she had at a gas station. People were trying to get out of town and out of harm’s way. Fuel is so scarce it’s now being rationed. Cars were lined up for blocks as people tried to get enough gas to outrun the Russian army. An ambulance was waved forward to take priority over the soon-to-be refugees.

We are rightly frustrated with rising gas prices. How would you feel about not having enough gas to escape with your family? With your life? 

A friend said to me last week, “I’d gladly pay seven dollars a gallon if it would help the Ukrainians stay free.” 

Would you?

At the gas station, Sabrina talked with a man waiting to get gas. She asked how he was doing and how he was feeling about what was happening to his country. 

The man replied, “I can’t believe this. They are bombing us. We are brothers, we are neighbors, we are brothers.”

An ancient conflict

Those comments sound to me like something from our own Civil War. 

We need to realize that under this horrendous conflict, the people who are shooting at each other are often related by blood and heritage. If it’s not brother versus brother, it may be cousin battling against cousin. This likely explains in part the reports coming out of the conflict of Russian troops being reluctant to fight with full aggression.

That made me think of Cain and Abel—the first brothers in the Bible and the first spilling of blood. 

Sadly, the conflict between Cain and Abel was a worship conflict. Cain worked the dirt. Abel managed livestock. The two usually go hand in hand. In time, the brothers came to present worship offerings to God. Abel’s was acceptable to God. For reasons that are unexplained in Genesis 14, Cain’s was not. 

God saw the frustration in Cain and warned him about the temptation to anger. “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 rule over it’” (Genesis 14:6–7 NIV).

Do you need to stop here for a conversation with and confession to God? 

Is there something causing you to be angry and downcast right now? Sin is always “crouching at your door.” Ask God to give you his strength to rule over it rightly.

What do the dead say?

Cain didn’t heed God’s warning. He was mad at God, but he took it out on his brother. How that pattern so often repeats itself! He led his younger and only brother into the field and took his life. God was watching, as he always is. God surely did not want this, but he allowed Cain to exercise his freedom of choice. Then, The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Genesis 14:10).

I wonder if Abel saw the attack coming from Cain. I wonder if they spoke as they fought. Did Abel’s faith and love and confusion cry out in the face of Cain’s anger and attack? It’s possible that Abel’s last words to his older brother might have been: “We are brothers!”

The writer of Hebrews remembered this story. Hebrews 11:4–5 says, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.”

The dead do speak. 

Abel still speaks. 

He calls us to embrace faith to the full. To give our highest and best and utmost to Christ as King. When we do, our faith offerings are acceptable to the God we worship. From that position, we are fully equipped to love others out of the overflowing love that God has shown us in Christ.

Abel and his blood still speak. More importantly, Jesus and his blood are still speaking. 

The last time Abel is mentioned in Scripture, it says, “You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks” (Hebrews 12:23–25).

Can you hear him speaking? 

His blood speaks life.

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