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Unpacking the Caine and Abel Story: A Fresh Perspective on Sacrifice

Discovering Deeper Meanings for Our Lives and Callings

Have you ever wondered about the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible? It's a well-known story, but what does it really mean? For those who may not be as familiar with the story, here's a brief summary:


Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve, and they both offered sacrifices to God. Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God, but Cain's was not. In a fit of jealousy, Cain murdered Abel and was cursed by God as a result.

Now that we have a better understanding of the story, let's explore its deeper meaning...

The Cain and Abel Story: What It Means for Young Adults and Their Friends

I spoke with a couple of young men I met while we were all helping a single mom move into her new apartment this morning. They were wearing their name tags and I instantly recognized them as Mormon missionaries. They were friendly and very helpful and our small town was their missions project.

I asked them while we were taking a break what their thoughts were regarding the Cain and Abel story. Naturally they knew the story but wanted to know what I meant by my question. I answered, “Why is it there in the bible? What’s it mean?”

Have you ever wondered that?

I mean it’s a prominent story in the bible and everyone is somewhat familiar with it. I asked if they thought it was a first hand story or a story that had been passed down through time from one person to the next before. We all agreed that was likely the case, that it’s importance and relevance kept it alive over time so that it held its prominent position in the bible.

I could see them grasping to find an answer to this question. Being as they were the ones on mission and they should know something. One young man said, it’s about murder and murder is not good. We all agreed on that point. But I pressed on.

Is that the only lesson we can learn from Cain and Abel or do you think there’s more to it that we don’t understand?

Being bright young men, they knew I was baiting them so they asked me, “What do you think it means?”

This blog is about that very subject and I will admit that I have no clue if I’m right about this as the Bible is full of stories that are insanely deep in their meaning. This is one viewpoint I heard and it makes sense to me so I will share it with you since it seemed to hit home with the young men I shared it with.

Sacrifice for the Greater Good: Understanding What It Means to Sacrifice to God

It really starts with understanding why Cain killed his brother. The Bible explains that pretty well. Cain’s sacrifice to God was not sufficient. Abel’s sacrifice was sufficient and pleasing to God. I asked the young men:

“What does it mean to sacrifice to God?”

They thought about that for a second.

“Does it mean we have to kill a sheep or a goat?”, I asked smiling.

"That doesn’t seem very relevant today.", they said. I agreed.

 So, I asked, “Do you think that perhaps we misunderstand what it means to sacrifice to God?”

“Perhaps,” they cautiously responded. 

Here’s what I believe and shared with them. 

Sacrifice: noun. An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

You told me that you both play sports, and you know what it takes to become number one in your sport. You know that talent alone will not make it. You know that it takes a sacrifice to be successful in sports. You know the players with talent that don’t work for it. You know that if you outwork someone, you will eventually get better. I think that’s the kind of sacrifice we are talking about in the Cain and Abel story.

But what does it mean to sacrifice to God?

Well, if we think of God as the greatest good there could possibly be in the universe, then to sacrifice to God is like sacrificing towards the greatest good there could possibly be in the universe.

“Does that make sense?”, I asked. Their heads nodded in agreement.

The Underdog and the Talented Person: Lessons in Jealousy and Hard Work

So you guys told me you both have little brothers. Now think back to biblical times and what the culture was like back then. The firstborn son would receive the father’s blessing meaning he was the one to get the right to inherit the family’s property and assets, as well as carry on the family name and legacy.

Cain was older than Abel. That meant that the family assets were eventually all his to have no questions asked. All he had to do is wait for the old man to kick off. But then along comes snotty-nose little brother. Perhaps Cain thought Abel was fun to have around at first but eventually he started making Cain look bad. Abel knew his father's blessing was not his to have. He knew he would have to work for whatever future he could create for himself. He couldn't just sit and wait for it to happen. He had to make it happen and so he did.

In a sense, Cain had all the talent. Abel had to do the hard work. He sacrificed more than his older brother. Cain rested on his laurels.

Something happens when the talented person who had all the favor starts to lose ground to the underdog who’s working hard to make life better. Especially when the underdog is not only making their life better but they’re making the lives of those around them better. There's something that draws us to that kind of team player and leader.

I told the young men:

“I can imagine Abel being the young man around town whose willing to chip in and help others. He goes out of his way to do that. Just like you guys have gone out of your way today on your mission to help this single mom and her son here today. I can imagine that you guys might get ribbed by others who don’t understand what it is you’re sacrificing in your life to do the work you are doing for the good of others and the glory of God. Does that make sense?”

Their eyes lit up so I went on.

“Have you ever faced criticism for the work your doing? Have you been paying the price for your decisions and felt like a foreigner in your own land? Can you see yourself in this story now?”

Cain is the one who stayed home. The one who could have gone out of his way to help others but didn’t. His sacrifice was insufficient. He was not concerned with anything other than pleasing himself and as he watched his brother gain in popularity and righteousness it pointed out his own failings and selfishness. To the point of wanting to see his brother dead.

That’s some pretty serious jealousy. That seems to make way more sense to me and they agreed.

Applying the Lessons: What the Cain and Abel Story Can Teach Us About Life

I told them I wanted to thank them for the sacrifice they were making to be missionaries. I told them that the lessons in the Cain and Abel story were for them to understand that the world will not appreciate or may even hate you for what it is you are doing. I asked them if they ever felt that way.

“Yes! All the time.”, they felt a sense of relief in being able to share that.

Well then, I think this story might be much more about our lives than we realize. It might not only be about murder being bad, but about our calling, your calling, and what to be prepared for as we go out and make the necessary sacrifices to the greatest good we could possibly bring to our world. That seemed to make sense to them and now I hope it makes sense to you too. 

So maybe there’s more in the bible then we ever imagined or thought relevant in today’s world.


The Cain and Abel story is about sacrifice. It’s about giving up something to get something better. It’s about aiming at the highest possible good we could imagine. Something that is good for you and me, your family and my family, those around you, and those around me, our neighbors, and for our planet as a whole. It's profound but also as simple as Christians and Mormons helping a single mom and her child move into a new apartment.

Now that’s common ground.



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