It happened again. I was reading a familiar passage of Scripture—one I have read and even preached many times—and was cut afresh, surprisingly so, by the blades of mercy.
The story is likely familiar to you also. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we are brought face to face with the depravity of man. Cain, consumed by his desires, boils over with a jealous selfishness. The dreadful result is the first example of fratricide in recorded history. Abel lies dead, and Cain is guilty.
What makes the story more interesting is the fact that God sees the whole thing. There is dialog before the murder where God warns Cain (Gen. 4:6-7) and then the divine inquisition follows it (Gen. 4:9-10). Reading the narrative, we anticipate the coming judgment. Off in the distance, we can hear the gallows being constructed. We see the rope being tied. Justice is coming to Cain. We know it is.
But it doesn’t. At least, it is not what we were expecting. God does send Cain away. He becomes a wanderer on the earth, a fugitive bearing a curse from what he has done. He’s alienated from God and the ground. But we are still waiting for more.
Instead of getting what we were anticipating, we are surprised by mercy. God sends Cain away wearing something of a placard warning those seeking justice, “If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold” (v.15b). Cain doesn’t get what he deserves, at least not immediately.
It’s a story like this that surprises me afresh. While not synonymous with one’s salvation experience, the expression of mercy shown in not getting what he deserves is unexpected.
It reminds me of the nature of mercy. By its definition, it’s undeserved. We are not getting what we deserve. And so it is with me. I don’t deserve mercy; I deserve judgment. I deserve quick, exacting, unrelenting, justice. God’s righteousness demands it. However, God shows mercy. I love how Paul captures radical depravity and surprising mercy in his letter to Titus. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).
You and I may not be guilty of physical fratricide, but we are guilty nonetheless. Jesus warns that hatred is akin to murder (Matt. 5:21-22). John reminds us of the same (1 John 3:15). Considering our steps in light of God’s revealed Word, we likely could not say it better than Cain: “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen. 4:13).
But God was merciful to you.
Run your fingers across the pages of Scripture and even among the familiar passages. The blades of mercy will graciously cut you and prompt you to praise God.
Editor's Note: This originally published at The Gospel Coalition