• Caleb Kaltenbach

3 Ways To Heal Broken Relationships

Updated: Sep 11

Genesis 4:9 has been haunting me lately. Let me explain…

After Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, they have two babies—Cain and Abel. The Hebrew word that we translate as Cain can mean “spear.” However, based on their interpretation of the Hebrew syntax in Genesis 4:1, some scholars wonder if Eve believed Cain to be the Messiah. After all, in Genesis 3:15, God promised that Eve’s offspring would destroy Satan and restore what was lost. Obviously, Cain proved not to be the Messiah.

Not the way I want to go...

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, the two brothers went to worship God. Cain brought offerings from the ground while Abel brought offerings from his flock. For some reason, God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s offering. Afterward, God spoke with Cain to encourage and warn him about sin. Sadly, Cain ended up committing first-degree murder.

In Genesis 4:9, God asked Cain, “’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 in 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. We need to be loving towards both God and people. Every Christian should be sharing Jesus with others while living out His loving message. Yes, we must be responsible to value, wait for, and keep our brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and other family members. You and I have to guard our friends. In Romans 12:5, Paul writes that we belong to each other. And as Jesus preached, we must love our enemies and love our neighbors (Matthew 5:38-48; 22:37-40).

Cain was the original Gollem (LOL)

However, how do we take responsibility for one another when we’re frustrated with each other? Any stress or struggle between you and others needs to be addressed. When we brush people aside or decide to 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

Part of me feels sorry for Cain. I mean, God rejected his offering and we’re never told why. Scholars have suggested reasons specific to the offering, but not one of their suggestions appears to suffice. Yet, what if God’s reason for rejecting Cain’s offering had nothing to do with the physical offering? Maybe Cain’s offering was as good as Abel’s. Perhaps Cain’s offering was rejected because of Cain himself? Hebrews 11:4 says, “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.” What if Cain correctly prepared his offering but never authentically consecrated his heart?

In the Bible, the idea of heart consists of an individual’s mind, soul, spirit, emotions, will, etc. The heart is your spiritual central nervous system… and it’s messed up! Matthew records Jesus teaching people of His day that food doesn’t spiritually defile 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, I’m sure that everything Jesus just mentioned has come out of your heart (because I know that’s true of my heart).

Our ever-changing emotions need the stability of an unchanging God.

Honestly, our hearts are always moving and shifting. 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. Before reacting as our impulsive hearts want us to, maybe we should try asking 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 originate 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 toxic emotions start to creep on 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 warn and encourage 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 and examine what God said to him… Just like his parents before him, Cain is being tempted to go against God. At that moment in time, Cain is:

  • jealous

  • more than angry—he’s burning![1]

  • downcast—feeling inferior, sick, or like a failure.[2]

  • probably afraid of being rejected as a person.

  • desiring evil over good.

  • being specifically tempted to hurt Cain.

All of the above is conjecture, but it seems 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, he chose to blame Abel. Placing others under the microscope appears to be better than looking in the mirror... but it's not!

According to many books by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, boundaries give us whatever we allow and create. While the hurts and offenses from others definitely impact our lives, many of our problems in life result from the decisions we’ve made.

Our current life situations primarily consist of whatever we’ve created or allowed.

Here's the good news: God is eager to help us with the struggle we’re facing or emotion we're experiencing.

You remember this story... right???

The Old Testament prophet Samuel anointed Israel’s first and second king. 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 appearance didn’t reflect his true self. He lacked devotion, character, and courage. Later, Samuel anointed David as Israel’s second king. Repeating the same mistake, Samuel assumed one of David’s brothers named Eliab was supposed to 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, knows you better than you know you, and holds you accountable for you. He doesn’t hold you accountable for anyone other than you. On the one hand, that’s freeing because God doesn’t hold me 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 society and cultural 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 Adam and we're no better than either of them. 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 hide his 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

Resolving any problems we’ve created and allowed can’t fully happen without God’s assistance. 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 they find it difficult to manage themselves, they're either lying or haven't embraced reality. Even Paul lamented about his continual against the sin within himself (Romans 17:15-25). How I manage my insecurities 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 manage my life (emotions, hang-ups, character gaps, decisions, etc.) hurts you. Unwillingness to "keep myself in check" ensures that others will have to… for a while. On a deeper level, because God created me and gave me my bodies and spirit as a stewardship, failing to manage who I am is rebellion against 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, we have seen God reject sacrifices before.

Not Cain & Abel and not real brothers

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that it’s not enough to refrain from murder. Being bitter or wrathful towards anyone places us in judgment. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus preached that the posture of our hearts influences the quality of our worship. “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.”

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 whatever His followers had or hadn't done for others was what they had or hadn't done for Him (Matthew 25:31-46). In other words, God sees our posture towards others as reflective of our posture towards Him.

Our posture towards people either deepens or distances our relationship with God.

The more we pursue the reconciliation of broken or damaged friendships, the closer we'll feel to God. The closer we are to God, the more we'll want to worship. The more we worship God, the better friend we become. The more we value God, the more we'll value what's most precious to Him: people. The more we value people, the more we'll value God. Loving God and people go hand-in-hand. Assuming the role of our loved one's keeper is a nonnegotiable.

In the end, God didn't treat Cain as Cain treated Abel... He didn't treat Cain as he deserved. In a way, God remained with him. Whereas Cain abandoned Abel, Eliab was compared to David, the older brother complained about his prodigal brother, and we attack __________ (you fill-in-the-blank with a name), Jesus—our older brother—will NEVER leave us. As we look for our struggle within, ask God to help us resolve the problem, and realize how our struggle with others impacts our view of God, we can better be our loved one’s keeper.


[1] According to the Hebrew. [2] According to the Hebrew.

© 2020 by Caleb Kaltenbach