The story of Cain and Abel points to something that has gone disastrously wrong in our human life and experience. At every level conflict erupts and leads to death and destruction. We know this all too well. What we are invited to discover, is that there is also in our world a movement of the grace of God. A movement that works in the opposite direction – replacing hatred with love, division with reconciliation, and violence with peace.
John Milton struck a chord when he called his great poem “Paradise Lost”. We know that the way things are is not the way things were meant to be. Somewhere in our beginnings there has been a wrong turning. There has been what is classically described as “the Fall”. There is something within us that causes us to choose the wrong path. The good news is that Christ has come to put this right.
The Christian life is a generous life. Its whole dynamic is about being turned away from self-centredness towards a focus on God and neighbour. When we come to appreciate how much God has given for us, we discover the motivation to give of ourselves. The point was captured by Isaac Watts when he wrote in a famous hymn: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Jesus had a way of seeing things differently, of confounding prevailing expectations, of turning things on their head. He had an eye for the outsider and a realization that God often works through people who are despised and counted as worthless. When it came to the question of generosity he drew attention not to those with plenty of resources but to a poor widow who gave her all.
“It is in giving of ourselves that we receive,” said Francis of Assisi. Counterintuitive this may be but experience has proved it is true. When we realise how much God has given for us, our generosity is unlocked and giving becomes a way of life for us too. Christian giving is not something that is prised reluctantly out of us when we would rather be holding on to what we’ve got. It is the kind of giving you do when you are in love with someone and you give them first of all yourself and then everything you have.
The Bible tells us that in the human story, with all its tragedies and complications and ambiguities, God works out a great purpose of salvation. Each of us can tell our own story of struggles, tragedies and disappointments. The amazing good news is that God takes those stories and makes them part of the great divine story of love, redemption and everlasting hope. This in turn shapes our own lives so that they reflect the faithfulness and redemption that we find in God. Here is power to turn around even the bleakest of situations.
In modern times we have done our best to construct a society that can tick along nicely on its own terms, without any great need to think of God at all, never mind think of God in terms of redemption. And we are encouraged to construct our own lives on the same pattern. The Bible offers a contrasting picture of our human life – one that recognises our vulnerability and brokenness but that promises God’s redemptive action to put things right. It is up to us to decide which picture rings true.
A great experience in Argyll is to see an eagle soaring high above its glen, its huge wingspan marking it out from other birds. Even more impressive, if you can ever get it, is a close-up view when a mother eagle is fluttering its wings over its young chicks. When it is time for them to learn to fly the mother will be there, spreading her wings and catching them if they fall. The Bible suggests that those protecting wings give us a picture of what God is like.
A note that sounds all the way through the Bible is the conviction that God is faithful. God will be with you, in good times and bad, and will never let you down. That kind of commitment can be reflected also in the way we live our lives. At a very tough moment Ruth said to her mother-in-law Naomi: “Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” With God’s help we too can become utterly dependable people.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” said the Apostle John. The opposite is also true – “perfect fear casts out love.” When fear is dominating our thinking or dominating the way our society works there is no room for love. The good news is that it does work the other way round – when love is the driving force there is no room for fear. Once you learn to give yourself to others as God gave himself to us, there is nothing to be afraid of any more, just a completed circle of love.