Cain: Depression as a warning

We often fall into the trap of thinking depression is the ultimate problem that we must remove. But what if depression only earmarks a more serious issue? What if, in erasing the symptoms that mark the depression – with drugs – we silence the cries of a more serious malady? (Please visit my previous post as introduction.)

The story of Cain (From Genesis 4 NASB)

Rejection sparked Cain’s depression. The two brothers had chosen different life pursuits; Abel was a shepherd and Cain, a farmer. When it was time to sacrifice a tithe to God, Abel brought the first-born of his flock along with “the bacon,” considered to be the best portion of the butchered carcass. Cain brought food. God loved Abel’s offering, but dismissed Cain’s as sub-par. Understandably, Cain’s feelings were hurt. Of course, the Bible doesn’t say, “He got depressed.” We must look for the non-verbal clues written in the ancient text. Genesis says he got angry and his face fell. He felt bitter, disappointed and inadequate. 

“Why the long face, Cain?” God asks rhetorically, more to call attention to the state of his spirit than inquiry. Cain is at a crossroads. His moody reaction is a warning that something more sinister is simmering.

God encourages him. “If you do what is right, your expression will lift.”

In other words, God said, “Do right and you’ll feel better.” What is the right Cain could do in the face of his hurt feelings and sinking sense of inadequacy? One sure way to lift the spirits is to become adequate! Whether it was sacrificing a blood offering or sacrificing the BEST of his produce, Cain could have asked God, “What must I do to please you?” Then, he could have done it. He now has God’s favor and his depressed, angry mood lifts; God is happy; Cain is happy. Abel gets to live.

God then cautions Cain. “If you do not do right; sin, like a wild animal, is waiting to pounce, snag and devour you!”

You see, God saw through the depressed look on Cain’s face to something far more dangerous than a feeling. He saw that Cain envied his brother’s position of favor. God saw that Cain felt sorry for himself; and instead of confessing his mistake, he blamed Abel for making him look bad. He was choosing to nurse his grudge against his successful brother, to let the pain fester into premeditated murder.

But God finishes the warning with hope. “Cain, you can control it.”

Was God talking about controlling the feeling of depression? No. He was referring to the guilt (sinful thoughts toward his brother) the depressed look signaled. The first step of control was to admit he hated his brother, come clean of his murderous thoughts, and eat some humble pie. Then God would have sprinted to his side and purged him of his guilt, wiping away his sense of rejection and disappointment.

Sadly, Cain continued to feed the wild animal. He invited his brother to join him in his field, murdered him and buried his body under the soil. The following verses are heartbreaking. Cain must answer a Father’s cries for justice. He is ironically cursed by the earth, the womb of life. He becomes paranoid, terrified of vengeance, homeless and outcast.

Depression can be a gift, if it become a heeded warning.*

What is depression? (From World Health Organization)

Depression is common; it affects 121 million people worldwide. Depression is variegated; it exhibits different symptoms. Depression is deadly; it is associated with 850,ooo deaths every year. The causes for depression are as varied as its symptoms; so are the treatments. Depression is described as a melancholy mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of her everyday responsibilities.

*Depression has various causes. This story presents guilt as one possibility.

Other depressed people in the Bible: Hannah, Jesus, Elijah, David, Paul

2 thoughts on “Cain: Depression as a warning

  1. You say “But what if depression only earmarks a more serious issue?” What if God is trying to tell us something through depression and we are not listening because we think we should make it go away? Saint John of the Cross said that his “Dark Night of the Soul” was what gave him “Oneness with God.” There is a great book called “The Depression Advantage” at that is about spiritual growth and the role that depression can play in it. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to talk about depression in the context of spiritual life. What if, in erasing the symptoms that mark the depression – with drugs – we silence the voice of God trying to teach us?


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