3 Ways To Heal Broken Relationships
Updated: Jan 13
Genesis 4:9 has been haunting me lately. Let me explain…
After God kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, they have two kids—Cain and Abel. While the Hebrew word for Cain can be translated as “spear,” depending on how the Hebrew syntax in Genesis 4:1 is interpreted, some scholars wonder if Eve believed Cain was the Messiah. After all, in Genesis 3:15, God promised that Eve’s offspring would destroy Satan and restore what was lost. Undoubtedly, Cain proved not to be the Messiah.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Cain worked the ground while Abel cared for the sheep (foreshadowing shepherds like Moses, David, and ultimately, Jesus). One day, Cain and Abel went to worship God. Cain brought offerings from the ground while Abel produced offerings from his flock. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s offering. Afterward, God attempted to encourage and warn Cain about the sin and temptation that was surrounding him. Sadly, Cain didn't listen and ended up murdering his brother.
After the murder, God spoke to Cain in Genesis 4:9, “’Where is your brother Abel?’”
Cain played dumb, “’I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
God’s question to Cain isn’t simply a parental question like, “Where’s your brother? Lunch is ready!” The gravity of God’s question is revealed by Cain’s seemingly dismissive answer. The Hebrew word “keeper” means to "keep safe, wait for, and always keep guarding." In other words, it’s almost as if God is asking Cain:
Are you keeping your brother Abel safe?
Are you waiting for your brother Abel?
Are you guarding your brother right now?
Are you valuing him?
Are you honoring him?
Perhaps God’s question to Cain is a wake-up call for us? Maybe we should evaluate our posture and attitude towards others? After all, Jesus-followers are commanded to love God and people--but that's difficult because of... well... people! Regardless of how we feel about certain people, Christians are responsible to value, wait for, and keep our brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. In Romans 12:5, Paul reminds us that we belong to each other. Similarly, to some degree, we're also responsible to value and even love our enemies, right? (Matthew 5:38-48; 22:37-40).
Again, these are not easy tasks. So, how do we take responsibility for one another when we’re frustrated with each other? Obviously, any stress or struggle between you and others needs to be addressed... but that's challenging when we're dealing with individuals who are bearing the brunt of our frustrations. Whenever we brush people off or decide to not embark on the difficult journey of resolving differences, we sacrifice more than we know. Refusing to engage in the healing and reconciliation of a relationship might be a greater sin than we assume. Here are some ideas for moving forward…
Search for the struggle within you
Let's go back to Cain's story. This might be weird to admit, but part of me feels sorry for him. God rejected his offering and we’re never told why. Scholars have suggested various reasons, but none of their suggestions suffices. Yet, what if God’s rejection of Cain’s offering had nothing to do with the actual offering itself? It could be that in and of itself, Cain’s offering from the ground was just as acceptable as Abel’s offering from his flock. What if God rejected Cain’s offering because of Cain himself? Consider Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.” I have this suspicion that Cain correctly prepared his offering but never consecrated his heart.
In the Bible, it seems that the heart consists of an individual’s mind, soul, spirit, emotions, will, etc. Your heart is your spiritual central nervous system… and it’s messed up! Jesus taught that instead of food, the heart spiritually defiles a person: “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20).
In some form or fashion, what Jesus mentioned in the above verses have probably come out of your heart... I know that’s true of my heart. The bottom line is that our hearts are unstable.
Our ever-changing emotions need the stability of an unchanging God.
Honestly, our hearts are always shifting and hardly consistent. We’re up and down, happy or sad, frustrated or peaceful, stressed or content, moving downward or sailing upward, and the illustrations could go on. The human heart wants what it wants NOW--which is why we're quick to make impulsive decisions. Before reacting as our impulsive hearts want us to, it might be helpful to ask ourselves:
Will my words reflect Christ’s love for this person?
How will my negative attitude hurt this person?
How might I defame God with my words and attitude towards this person?
How can I stabilize my current emotions?
More than anywhere else, our struggles with others grow from within. Our hearts, which are revealed in our thoughts and emotions, are desperately in need of a God who is all-powerful, completely dependable, and altogether loving. When sinful emotions troll us, our love for God and others must transcend the toxicity of the moment.
Resolve the problems you’ve created & allowed
In Genesis 4, God cared enough for Cain to advise him, “’Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7).
Take a moment to re-read what God said to Cain… Just like his parents before him, Cain was tempted to go against God. In a particular moment, Cain is:
more than angry—he’s burning!
downcast—feeling inferior, sick, or like a failure.
probably afraid of being rejected as a person.
desiring evil over good.
being specifically tempted to hurt Cain.
Obviously, all of the above is conjecture, but it appears that Cain believed his responsibility was to make himself “feel better” instead of dealing with his sinful heart. Rather than hold himself responsible for his attitude and decisions, he chose to blame Abel. Initially, "placing others under the microscope" might feel better than "looking in the mirror," but it's not! Without some long hard looks "in the mirror" we won't have the insight or fortitude to set-up needed boundaries in our lives.
According to many books by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, boundaries give us whatever we allow and create. While hurts and offenses from others negatively impact us, many of our problems are the results of poor decisions. Such trouble became part of our lives because we didn't make intentional decisions to become better.
Much of the time, our current life situations consist primarily of whatever we’ve created or allowed.
Here's the good news: God is MORE THAN EAGER to help us with whatever obstacle we face or suffering we experience.
The Old Testament prophet Samuel anointed Israel’s first and second kings. First, he anointed Saul who was tall, handsome, and from a good tribe (1 Samuel 9:1-2). He mistakenly equated Saul’s appearance with God’s anointing. Unfortunately, Saul’s outward image didn’t reflect his true self. He lacked the devotion, character, and courage to be Israel's leader.
The second king that Samuel anointed was David. At first, Samuel repeated his same mistake--he assumed one of David’s brothers named Eliab would be the next king. God quickly replied to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God created you and knows you better than you know you. He holds you accountable for you. He doesn’t hold you accountable for anyone other than you. On the one hand, that’s freeing because I'm not responsible for Judas Iscariot’s decisions. On the other hand, I still have to deal with me, myself, and I. This is why we need God’s help!
In our current societial climate, sin feels like it's always crouching at our door… or on Twitter’s landing page, in personal conversations, etc. If you think about it, Cain was no better than his father, Adam. God asked Adam, “Where are you?” (after he sinned). He asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (after his sin). Adam hid from God and tried to hide his nakedness from God. Cain tried to "play dumb" about brother’s whereabouts. God asked Adam “Who told you that you were naked?” and asked Cain, “What have you done?” In so many ways, Cain is really Adam 2.0. In even more ways, you and I are Adam 1,000,000.0. Cain was no better than Adam, but you and I are no better than either of them.
Resolving and growing past any problems we’ve created and allowed can’t fully happen without God’s presence. Regular prayer, study, weekly counseling, accountability, small group, serving others, and more are just some of the outlets that God leverages to heal us.
Throughout my life, I’ve realized how difficult it can be to manage who I am. If people claim not to have life seasons where it's difficult to manage themselves, they're either lying or haven't embraced reality. Even Paul lamented about his continual fight against the sin within himself (Romans 17:15-25). How I manage my insecurities and stabilize my corrupt emotions impacts my future decisions. How I decide to resolve my toxic heart’s desires determines my spiritual growth rate.
Taking responsibility for me is how I can care for you.
Refusing to lead myself (emotions, hang-ups, character gaps, decisions, etc.) hurts you. Unwillingness to "keep myself in check" ensures that others will have to… for a while... until they get sick of me. On a deeper level, because God created my body & spirit and stewarded me with caring for them, failing to govern who I am is rebellion against the great I AM.
As best you can, resolve so you can worship!
If the posture of Cain’s heart determined the acceptability of his sacrifice, then the same is probably true for us today. After all, even today, God still rejects sacrifices based on a person's heart.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached that refraining from murder isn't good enough. Bitterness, indifference, hate, and wrath towards anyone makes us assume we can judge everyone: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).
In light of both Genesis 4:1-16 and Matthew 5:21-26, it seems as if God won't bless an offering made in the midst of bitterness and anger. Jesus went so far as to claim that His followers' actions and attitudes towards others reflected their true feelings about Him (Matthew 25:31-46). In other words, God interprets our disposition towards others as truly reflecting how devoted we are to Him.
Our posture towards people either deepens or distances our relationship with God.
The more we forgive others and pursue the reconciliation of broken or damaged friendships (when safe and appropriate), the closer we move to God. The closer we are to God, the more devoted we are to Him. The more devoted we are to God, the better friend and family member we become. All of this helps us to authentically value what's most precious to God: people. God values people above all because He's glorified the most when someone far from Him becomes a follower of Him. The more we value people, the more we'll value God. Loving God and people go hand-in-hand. Assuming the role of our brother or sister's keeper is a non-negotiable for believers.
In the end, God didn't regard Cain as Cain regarded Abel... He didn't treat Cain as he deserved. In a way, even though God exiled Cain to a distant land, He was still with Cain. Whereas Cain abandoned Abel, our Savior refuses to do the same to us. Jesus—our older brother—will NEVER leave us (Matthew 28:20). As we look for our struggle within, we must ask God to help us resolve the problem and realize how our struggle with others impacts our view of God, so we can be better at keeping our brothers and sisters.