“Are you bitter or better?”
It’s something my dad used to say often. The idea being that everything that happens in our lives can make us bitter. But those very same events can also make us better.
In Chapter 4 of Genesis, we see the former play out.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.
Eve thought she bore the Messiah. And so she named her boy Cain, which means “He is here.”
Let’s continue on in verse 2:
2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
God asks Cain, “Are you going to be bitter about this or better because of it?” God is giving Cain a chance to rectify the situation.
Because when we let bitterness take hold, our lives spiral toward entropy, toward chaos. That’s what we see in the next passage:
8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
That word, “Nod” means “restless.” So Cain settled in a land of restlessness. Everything is moving toward chaos. Cain lies to God. He could not confess to this sin. He had an unrepentant heart.
This is why it’s important to remember that unresolved sin turns us from God.
When we decide to sin, it’s not that God turns His back on us. Rather, we actively turn our backs on Him. That means that we don’t think that we did anything wrong. And that God is the one to blame.
Cain says, “[God] has driven me away.” There is no ownership. No repentance.
Yet, as long as there is still breath in our lungs, God always gives us an opportunity to confess.
Think about the thief on either side of Jesus while he was on the cross. One of them is mocking Jesus. The other finally has a repentant heart, and he says, “Forgive me.” Jesus says, “You will be with me on this day in paradise.”
When unresolved sin turns us from God, the next thing that happens is it that sin gets passed down from generation to generation.
This is the process of epigenetics, where the expression of genes is tweaked without changing the DNA code itself.
According to the BBC, “Tiny chemical tags are added to or removed from our DNA in response to changes in the environment in which we are living. These tags turn genes on or off, offering a way of adapting to changing conditions without inflicting a more permanent shift in our genomes.”
Researchers have even studied this phenomenon in several controlled experiments in mice.
“A 2013 study found that there was an intergenerational effect of trauma associated with scent. The researchers blew acetophenone—which has the scent of cherry blossom—through the cages of adult male mice, zapping their foot with an electric current at the same time. Over several repetitions, the mice associated the smell of cherry blossom with pain.
“Shortly afterwards, these males bred with female mice. When their pups smelled the scent of cherry blossom, they became more jumpy and nervous than pups whose fathers hadn’t been conditioned to fear it. To rule out that the pups were somehow learning about the smell from their parents, they were raised by unrelated mice who had never smelt cherry blossom.”
The baby mouse was afraid of the cherry blossom even though it’d never smelled one because of the trauma of its father. That’s epigenetic modification.
What’s crazy is, unresolved sin gets passed down the same way. Maybe it’s destructive behavior. Alcoholism. Sex addiction.
When we repress those sins, we pass them on to our children, who become more inclined to repeat them.
Let’s continue on to verse 23:
Then Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; wives of Lamech, listen to my speech.
For I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
He’s boasting. Lamech writes a song about the fact that he’s committed murder. Why does this matter?
Lamech happens to be the great, great, great grandson of Cain. Cain had unresolved sin that he passed down.
But here’s the kicker: epigenetic modification can be reversed.
We can turn from our sin so that it doesn’t get passed on from generation to generation. So whatever that stumbling block is for you, consider that Jesus gives us an opportunity to change our lives. We don’t have to be stuck in the same patterns of sin.
Romans 12:2 tells us Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
God is the perfect judge and unresolved sin turns us from Him.
Cain decided to walk in a way of bitterness. And after we hear the story of Lamech, that’s the last we hear from the line of Cain in the Bible.
Let’s finish the chapter:
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.
People began to call upon the Lord. We see a revival start. Adam and Eve turn from their sin.
By the grace of God, we get to have a relationship with Jesus. He makes everything better. If we reject him, we’re going to find ourselves entrenched in bitterness.
But we have a choice: will we be bitter, or will we be better?