COMPASSION: STORY OF CAIN AND ABEL
A Sermon by Rev. Frederick M. ChapinMay 28, 1995 (Phoenix, AZ)
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
One of the reasons the Lord revealed the Word is to teach us how to love other people. The Word teaches us how to enjoy being of service to others. In order for this to be a reality in our lives, we must love the Lord above all things. Simply put, we love the Lord when we are willing to completely obey His teachings. If we comply with the Lord’s commandments, we will effectively love our neighbor. We will have a genuine compassion towards them that will make our lives the most fruitful. This is the fundamental reason why the Lord gave the Word to us.
If we do not have compassion, we will use the Word to dominate over others, not to help them . Without compassion, we will twist the Word to justify selfish ends. We can see the importance of compassion in the familiar story of Cain and Abel.
Cain and Abel were brothers. Cain was a tiller of the ground while Abel was a keeper over sheep. Cain pictures a person who insists upon being personally involved in developing the principles to live by. Just as a tiller of the ground must work the ground, so such a person demands to investigate, from self, what is good and true. Such a person wants to figure out what should be applied to life and what should be rejected.
The danger of this type of attitude is that we can eventually become convinced that we know what is good and true from our own efforts and faculties. We, ourselves, can discover what is right and proper. In fact, we eventually believe that we do not need the Lord. We are persuaded that we can distinguish good from evil from our own intellect and experiences. We do not need a revelation to tell us how to live. When we believe that we can determine what is right, without the Lord’s guidance, we are in a faith that is devoid of charity. Cain pictures a person who bases salvation primarily upon what is known and not upon one’s loves. We can see in Cain’s disposition that he was cold and judgmental. He felt superior because of the harvest that he felt he was responsible for. He pictures a person who sternly adheres to the letter without any thought of the consequences upon others. As a result, there is a feeling of being preferred over others because of what we know. This type of attitude makes it impossible to have a genuine concern towards the welfare of others.
Abel, on the other hand, pictures a person who has genuine charity instilled in one’s heart. He is gentle and simply watches over what the Lord has given to him. His disposition shows a person who does good things chiefly for the benefit of others, not merely for the reward they may receive because of their good deeds. Such a person has genuine compassion in his or her heart.
The Word is very clear that we must develop a sincere compassion if we are have the Lord’s life within us. When we are in a true state of compassion, we are equipped to manifest the love that the Lord has towards the human race. The Lord, especially in the New Testament, quite often was said to be moved with compassion. The Greek word that is most often used in reference to the Lord’s compassion has the meaning of being stirred in the deepest parts. The Lord was moved from the innermost depths of His being. Such is the type of compassion the Lord strives for us to have. This compassion effects our internal thoughts and passions, not just our external actions. We are looking for ways we can help others and are eager to be a true friend to everyone we are in contact with.
There are three basic things we must have in order to have a genuine compassion towards other people. First, we must not seek revenge but strive for reconciliation. Secondly, we must have empathy towards those who are in need, regardless whether we will benefit from it or not. And thirdly, we must always be ready to forgive if someone has done us harm. If these three affections are active within us, we will have a compassion that desires to perform what is useful towards those around us.
Genuine compassion does not come instinctively. It comes in the same degree that we are united with the Lord. In fact, compassion is the Lord’s presence working within us. It is from His love that stirs us to take action when we see someone who is in need. His influx causes us to respond just as the good Samaritan did when he saw the man in trouble. Those who have a deep and meaningful relationship with the Lord know that the Lord inspires them to help others. We read of this in the work Arcana Coelestia:
Indeed when people who are perceptive have feelings of compassion they know that they are being alerted by the Lord to offer help. (AC 6737)
Compassion allows us to continually intercede for others just as the Lord intercedes for us. We will continually excuse and forgive so we may work in harmony with others and delight in a relationship that is centered upon the reception of the Lord’s direction.
However, genuine compassion does not exists without knowing, from the Word, what is good and true. At times, we may see a great number of people responding to a crises, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the California earthquakes. Certainly, the efforts of such people are generous and their motives should not be questioned. However, there is more to being spiritually compassionate then just feeling sorry for people. Our compassion must be based with a desire that the Lord’s teachings be active in people’s lives. We must first know what the Word teaches in order for our compassion to become a spiritual compassion.
The Writings for the New Church give a clear warning not to exercise benefactions to everyone who simply asks for it. They caution that if there is not prudence and discrimination in our acts of charity, we could enable acts of evil and deception to become successful by our good intentions. A true compassion will motivate us to make sure that our acts of charity will truly lead to a good end.
When we have a compassion that is sincere towards others, our offerings of worship and devotion to the Lord will be accepted. It will lead to an even closer unity between the Lord and ourselves. We are taught that the Lord conjoins Himself with what is His own in us. This is what leads to a true relationship with Him. This acceptance is pictured by the offering of Abel being received by the Lord.
However, Cain’s offering was not accepted. He presented himself before the Lord with a fundamental belief that he was better than others in comparison to himself. He felt worthy that he was good enough and achieved enough for the Lord to reward him. Such pride in oneself will never make our worship sincere or effective. Therefore, the worship from such an attitude will never accept guidance from the Lord, nor will it tolerate the Lord’s presence within us. The appearance is that the Lord has rejected our overtures and our efforts, but in reality, we have rejected Him.
Cain later was in a field with Abel and his anger was so aroused that he killed him. This illustrates the complete separation of charity from those who believe that what they know makes them worthy to stand before the Lord. They actually regard charity as useless. They have a prevailing attitude that any acts or desires of good are not essential to receive salvation. In fact, any theology that advocates humility and putting others above ourselves they slay with a vengeance. And when asked where charity is, they respond, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Our convictions of what is true refuses to serve or to be a keeper to our dedication to obey the Lord and help our neighbor. The truths we know is meant to guide us in becoming shinning examples of the Lord’s love. But when we believe that salvation consists in only what we confess with our mouths, there is a desire that our faith have the authority over our affections of charity. There will be the desire that salvation consist only with what we know or do in our externals.
Cain was then punished. He became a wanderer and a fugitive. When we base salvation only upon what we know, we will not have a true or personal awareness of what heavenly goods and delights are. The biggest tragedy in faith-alone is it prohibits one from experiencing or perceiving what is truly good. It prevents one from having a sense of the Lord’s presence and guidance in one’s life.
Nevertheless, Cain was protected. Faith in the Lord was never meant to be abolished. We must learn and know more things of how we are to live and the delights that we are to remove and accept in our lives. Yet, faith is meant to serve our desire to become more united with the Lord. It does this by teaching us the steps that we must take in order to have a spiritual conjunction with the Lord. Therefore, the Lord put a mark on Cain so no one would destroy him. Likewise, our faith is not meant to dominate our desires for charity but serve towards that end. It is through faith that we are able to have a genuine conscience established in our lives. When we learn how we are supposed to live, the Lord can develop a dedication to live that way so eventually we will find enjoyment and satisfaction in such a life.
Every person has the capabilities of having a sincere compassion towards their fellow-man. When we comply with the Word, the Lord’s life will flow into us and inspire us to focus on the eternal welfare of those we are in contact with. We are truly compassionate when we look upon our neighbor with the idea of service, not to serve us. If this attitude in life is developed within us, we will experience the joys of knowing the Lord is working in us to establish benefits that will last throughout eternity. May we dedicate ourselves to apply these precious words from the Lord: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12)