Nodding in the Presence of the Lord

“Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). “Nod” means wandering, so this means that Cain became a wanderer, just as the Lord had said he would (4:12). Note here that Cain had been in the presence of the Lord. Otherwise, how could he go away from it?

Cain was a sinner and a son of those cast out of the Garden of Eden, yet he had been in the presence of the Lord. It is interesting to note that the first time the word “sin” is used in Scripture, it is not used in reference to Adam and Eve — the oft-called original sinners — but to their son Cain. Before Cain sins, he is angry and jealous of his brother Abel, whose offering the Lord had accepted while rejecting the offering of Cain (4:4-5). Seeing this anger, the Lord says to Cain, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (4:7). We would do well to remember this when we are angry.

The Psalmist says, “Be angry and do not sin,” so the feeling of anger is not a sin (Ps 4:4). And, in fact, it has a good purpose. St Isaiah the Solitary writes, as recorded in the first text on the first page of the Philokalia, “Without anger, a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy.” This is the right use of our anger – and our incensive power, as many fathers call it. Our anger is to be used against the demons and our evil thoughts and our own sins. The Psalmist says, “Be angry and do not sin; commune with your own hearts on your beds and be silent” (4:4). You see, it is against the evil powers in our own hearts that we must be angry. If we are able to be silent and still and at peace, it is because we are waging war in our own hearts.

Our anger is useful in this battle, but it is also dangerous. When we are angry, sin is lurking at the door – and also when we are hungry or lonely or tired or in any other way weakened. We must be watchful because these things will lead us into sin if we have no self-control – if we have not mastered our passions but they have mastered us.

Anger led Cain into sin, just as the Lord warned him it would if he did not master it, and he killed his own brother (Gen 4:8). Yet despite all this, note again that it was Cain who went away from the presence of the Lord. It was not the presence of the Lord that went away from Cain.

The Lord had cast his parents out of the Garden and away from the Tree of Life for breaking his commandment, but still the Lord was present to Cain. The Lord did not regard the offering of Cain, which Cain had offered only in the course of time rather than from the firstlings as did Abel, but still the Lord was present to Cain and spoke to him and warned him and told him how he was to avoid sin by mastering his anger. Even after Cain failed to do this and murdered his brother, the Lord continued to speak to him. He punished him, but he tempered his punishment and would not let Cain be killed for what he had done, even though this is what he deserved. In the end, it was Cain who went away from the presence of the Lord. It was not the presence of the Lord that went away from Cain.

Do not turn away from the presence of the Lord. No matter what sins you may have, turn to the Lord. That’s what conversion means — to turn to the Lord. When you turn to him, you will find that he has not turned away from you.

Fr. John R.P. Russell

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Fr. John R.P. Russell is a husband, a father of four, a priest for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma, and a painter particularly influenced by abstract expressionism and iconography. He has an M.Div. from the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and a B.A. in art with a minor in religion from Wabash College. He blogs here: http://holydormition.blogspot.com/. Some of his paintings can be seen here: https://paintingprosopa.blogspot.com/

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