Old stories can be windows into our lives and into our struggles right now. There are two kinds of people in the world — those who build and those who dismantle; those who construct and those who destroy.

In personal relationships a destroyer is the kind of person who can hurt you deeply and feel no pain for you in anyway. He/She is incapable of feeling your hurt. Such a person thinks only of himself or herself, unable to really empathize with the person injured.

The number of such stories is vast, but there is one old story that has been preserved in a phrase that we would do well to think about and learn from. I would like to share the story and then suggest a couple of things for all of us.

The phrase often used to describe people who create problems, constantly act negatively and hurtfully, attacking and assaulting people, is “raising cain.” Or was it “raising cane?”

I think it is probably that “Cain” in the ancient story in Genesis chapter 4. As in all such “short stories” there are several things that should be “read between the lines” as the story unfolds, assumed for purposes of understanding the story and what happens.

The word “Cain” comes from a Hebrew root word that means “to acquire” and must have come from Adam and Eve’s response to the arrival of this new baby boy. This was an appropriate name for the baby, but also a name that was to mark history much like other later names — Hitler, Stalin or any number of other heinous names.

As the story develops there is another who comes on the scene. Cain’s little brother Abel arrives. In the arrival of Abel we learn that development of competition and the reality of that terrible problem that all humans have — sin.

This simply reveals that not everything can be good. We need to learn the difference between the good and the bad in human relationships and the need to deal with this vital difference. There are differences in our world, even as we see there are similarities.

There are similarities between these two siblings — both had the same parents; both had respectable occupations; both worked; both sacrificed as required; both worshipped. One was accepted; the other was rejected. Cain was not accepted; Abel was accepted. Cain failed; Abel made an “A.”

There are differences in our world that we must deal with. Why is one accepted and the other rejected? This is where we need to “read between the lines” to get some understanding and possible resolution to the story.

The distinction in this story is in attitude and behavior, rather than in the physical type of offering, although that was likely involved.

Abel brought his offering and sacrifice with a willing heart, rejoicing and worshipping; Cain brought his offering, doing his duty, giving from his resources, but obviously his heart was not in it. He thought wrong.

When you read the story you will find an interesting expression in the seventh verse — “sin is crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7). Wrong, or to use that more dramatic word, “sin” is like a vicious animal, crouching at the door of our lives to leap on us and devour us. Anger, hate and hostility are the product of this lurking evil.

In this ancient story Cain cannot take his rebuke and deal with his feelings. This is certainly true of many, even those who are very religious, who think they are right, and continue blindly and viciously on their way to terrible actions.

Cain refused to acknowledge his failure and flaw, instead he lifted his hand against his brother and murdered him.

When you read this story you should recognize that Cain refused to take counsel. Then he lied about what he thought and did. This kind of person has no conscience as he lies, distorts and deceives. He has no sense of wrong or understanding of lying. The “spin” is the thing!

The other part of this story that is important for us to consider is the arrival of God to confront the evil doer. God comes asking questions, disturbing and exposing questions to this person who has been destructive.

Now there is another use to be made of this term “raising Cain.” I want to hold Cain up for all of us to see the possibilities in everyone of us. Under certain circumstances any of us can become Cains and do such terrible things and even feel right about them.

Now this brings along that great question Cain asked which will bring us to our conclusion and a final comment — “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The very asking of this question by Cain was a justification for what he did. He blamed his brother, shifted the responsibility!

At this point God responds in a most important way in the story — “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”

This ancient story speaks to us today. We cannot avoid the consequences of our sins!

Their reality cries out for all through history.

We cannot hide our sins.

It was the Psychiatrist Karl Menninger who sought to raise the importance of these things when he authored the book titled “What Ever Became of Sin?” This is a question that we need to consider and find freedom in forgiveness.

This ancient story has much to teach us in regards to right and wrong in our lives — personally and socially, locally and nationally. It is my firm conviction that we need to learn from the past, understand those who have lived and learned from real life.

This story is an important moral drama. Let me hear from you on what you think about sin and how to deal with it.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me at drjerryhopkins@yahoo.com. You may also reach me by “snail” mail at Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P.O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671.

— Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and retired university professor.