Cain and Abel – Uncovering the Unconscious

The Bible is full of stories that on the surface may seem theatrical and entertaining, yet in entertaining these stories further, a new interpretation is uncovered. I feel as if this is particularly true in the book of Genesis. Some of the most famous and crucial stories that form the foundation of the Bible are found in Genesis- they are also extremely short. For example, the story of Cain and Abel is only sixteen lines, however, its implicit meaning gives it life. 

The life of the story of Cain and Abel is a representation of several binaries. The very nature of the title is binary by the use of two brothers. Although many binaries can be examined, I will look at the idea of doing what is right vs. doing what is wrong in the sense of moral action. 

Cain and Abel are brothers. They are the first brothers in the history of mankind. Cain “cultivates the earth” and Abel was a “shepherd.” The story follows as such: 

“When it was time for harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift– the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.” 

Cain’s anger seems justifiable. Why would the Lord accept his brother, Abel’s gift, but not his own? I can only imagine the self-doubt, angst, and lack of confidence the Lord’s unapproved must have bestowed upon Cain. He watched as his brother, with seemingly the same type of offering, was accepted by the Lord while he was left with nothing. 

Looking through Cains’ eyes, this cruelty from the Lord seems to me as a representation of the cruelty of nature. Whether or not you believe in a God, or a higher power influencing your life and the lives around you, the moral of the story can be understood. 

We all have had days where we feel as if the laws of nature are working against us, despite whether our intentions, work ethic, and spirit are all in accordance and aligned towards achieving our goal, but still some higher power is stopping us from reaching it. 

I feel as if this is how Cain is receiving the Lord’s denial of his offering. Following a moment like this, we as humans can become dejected like Cain, or we can continue to act with the same positive intentions, work ethic, and spirit. And this is the same message God feeds to Cain: 

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” 

The Lord offers Cain the wisdom that he must be the master over his depression and anger, or it will consume him. The Lord implies that Cain “will be accepted” if he just does what is right. The Lord never states that Cain’s offering was wrong or not enough, thus perhaps it was a challenge to test Cain’s faith and character. 

This story, from likely thousands of years ago, still rings true today. Despite its brevity, when uncovered, it provides the wisdom that still persists to this day. Cain’s true colors shine through when he is faced with a bit of strife and overcome with the vice of envy over his brother. We all endure challenges in our daily goals and missions. We all experience unfair outcomes for other people or feel as if our sacrifices for others are not acknowledged, similar to how God did not acknowledge Cain’s sacrifice. Yet the correct response is to stay true to your mission and do what is right, for following the alternative path is to fall victim, or slave, to your vices. 

3 thoughts on “Cain and Abel – Uncovering the Unconscious”

  1. Your exploration of this story from the Bible is very interesting, but what I find most intriguing about this blog post is your choice to empathize with the characters. When you imagine Cain’s self-doubt near the beginning of your exploration and then tie your thoughts together by applying his frustration to what many people experience today, you make what is biblical more approachable for a more general audience. This also is reflective of your other blog posts when you thought of the Bible as potentially residing in the category of self-help books. I think that you should be mindful of this move while you write your thesis because I think that it could be very powerful maneuver when explaining these stories and their implications.

  2. I quite liked this post. Thinking about a classic Biblical story in a binaristic way is a good approach, especially considering it is an archetype for almost every future trope of antagonistic sibling relationships. Unpacking the original story is helpful to understand why it remains an important framework of a classic trope in media, especially as you examine it from a moral perspective when the Bible (or at least they way most people choose to interpret it) is very black and white.

  3. Thank you for this piece, Jake; a new angle for me to see from your interpretation of Cain and Abel. What I do is I draw a triangle of the Lord, Cain, and Abel; each relationship to illuminate towards the whole. Questions: How is God “nature” (assuming the “cruelty of nature” is chaotic and random) if he has a specific morality of “what is right,” if he already has reason. Cain’s “deject[ion]” and “ang[er]” stems ultimately from Cain’s intense (pre)occupation with himself, his selfishness, self-centerness; he could have asked God: Why? Why choose his brother and not him; instead he is steeped in the pool of his silence, of himself, thinking that he is lesser and thus becomes anger. Would Abel have committed the same “sin”?; is it a “sin” to have yourself as the center? For the Lord speaks rather abstractly; he mentions “what’s right” and “sin” without revealing explicit what they are; what defines “right[ness]” and “sin” can be as brittle and thin; his language can be up for interpretation by Cain? And, what’s the purpose of testing Cain? Good luck.

Comments are closed.