Where Is Your Brother?

#mikkikimmitravels

Siblings . . . 

Sibling rivalry was real in my house. We didn’t have arguments; we had wars. I remember frying pans to the face, doorknobs to the teeth, and golf balls to the head as things that actually happened between my siblings and me.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I met a Christian family who behaved very differently, I wanted to know what this Jesus thing was all about. I didn’t know people could act that way with their brothers and sisters.

I’m very grateful to say our kids never engaged in fisticuffs. (Grateful because they didn’t and also because I got to use that wonderful word.) Jesus made quite a difference in my outlook on appropriate sibling behavior.

God’s children do not, however, always follow this pattern. Almost the second question in the Bible, after God asks the leaf-clad Adam and Eve where they are and why they’re hiding, comes the question he addresses to their oldest offspring.

It’s a pretty serious question.

Where is your brother?

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Genesis 4. 2-9)

Spoiler: God knows the answer.

Cain must know God knows, so why he gives this patently flippant answer is anyone’s guess. Although, I suspect we know too well why all of us give God absurd answers to things we don’t want to look at too closely.

I don’t know. Am I supposed to be looking out for my brother?

Apparently, we were still pondering it in Jesus’ time, because someone had to ask Jesus exactly who his neighbor was, and Jesus had to tell another story that asked the same question God starts the whole human race with here—Where is your brother/neighbor?

Everywhere.

That was Jesus’ reply. Are you your brother’s guardian, Cain? Why yes. Yes, you are. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. It’s the way I made people to be.

In his new book Everybody, Always, Bob Goff suggests that God created us as one big neighborhood on this earth–all made for one another no matter where or how.

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God decided it wasn’t good for people to be alone, so he made us for one another. Then he made it clear right after the first sin that we were going to have to take that very seriously, because the world was going to get a lot harder. We would need to be one another’s guardians, or no one would make it out alive.

That’s one of the scariest parts of our current obsession with tribalism. When we start to form our groups, deciding who’s in and who’s not, denying brotherhood to those who are outside our boundaries, we become cadres of Cains, denying to God that we have any responsibility in the welfare of anyone beyond what we’ve declared are our lines.

Even when our brothers’ blood cries out from the ground.

To make this easier, we find reasons they don’t deserve our attention. That’s why Cains find it easy to believe sensational news stories with questionable data. If we can make it Abel’s fault, our hands are clean. Humans, and by humans I mean me, will do just about anything to avoid guilt.

“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

I think we’re helped in our answer by the words just before this story. Eve gives birth, and she also gives thanks to God. Remember, the birth process was going to be rough, and Eve not only accepts this part of the curse but gives gratitude to God for bringing her through it and giving her a child.

Gratitude

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Eve’s approach too life oozes gratitude. She chooses to live, after her first unfortunate choice, with constant thanks to God for his provision of everything she needs.

Cain, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have inherited this attitude. We don’t know why God chose to accept his brother’s offering and not his, but he responds with anger. He feels cheated. He wants what he thinks he deserves. He chooses resentment rather than gratitude.

Interesting studies into the attitudes that have created our tribalism in the US point to the same conclusion. Those who choose resentment also choose to close themselves off to their brothers. One study reported by the Washington Post reveals that, 

 Economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. Racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income  and employment made a negligible difference. When white millennials scored high on racial resentment they were 42 percentage points more likely to indicate feelings of vulnerability than those who scored low.

People who would prefer to blame and resent rather than open their arms and hearts in gratitude for their lives are the people who refuse to see “brother” in the refugee, immigrant, person of color, or sister.

Interestingly, this is true regardless of the person’s actual economic or physical circumstances. The well off are just as likely to shut out their nonwhite, non-American-born brothers as the poor if they are already inclined to resent others for what they think they don’t have.

It’s as old as Cain. And as devastating.

The answer isn’t anything complicated. It’s gratitude. Choosing to be thankful for everything God provides to children of Adam and Eve who don’t really deserve anything at all but who are granted so much.

It’s utterly impossible to take the attitude of Eve and have the heart of Cain. We can’t revel in the undeserved graciousness of the Lord and refuse to invite your brother into the circle.

If we live consistently grateful, humble lives, we will always know exactly where our brother is. He’s all around us. He’s everyone. And we are his keeper.

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*I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. These wonderful people I have come to know and love as I work with them more and more are certainly those God calls our brothers and sisters. With God’s help, I’m going to walk it and meet my fundraising goal! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Stamp of the Almighty — If I’m God’s Image, What Are You?

Twelve years ago, we took our family on a mission trip to China. As part of our daily activity, we went into classrooms where kids would ask us questions and practice their English skills. Usually, we fielded generic questions like: What’s your favorite color? What do you like about China? What do you do? And, once they found out our family was from Chicago, Do you know Michael Jordan?

But one day, a boy raised his hand and floored me with something else. “Do you hate Osama bin Laden?” 

We think we’ve got large class sizes.

This was October, 2002. 9/11 was not yet history. I struggled for the right words, and out came something like, “No, I don’t. I am a follower of Jesus and he asks me to love my enemies. So I hate what he did. But no, I do not hate him.”

I could sense a climate change in the room. A room filled with communist atheist kids had just heard something they did not have the resources to comprehend. I wasn’t sure I did. But their skepticism that our God was relevant turned to interest. What could make someone not return hate with hate?
Remember a time when people got along all the time? No one blamed anyone else for their dumb decisions, and no one got all defensive in your face about it either? We never bullied or inflicted hurt on purpose or put our own wants above someone else’s needs? No one died in mindless acts of hatred.
Yeah, neither do I. Because none of us ever saw it. Only two people ever did. They didn’t hang onto it for long.

It Was All Good. Very Good.

I imagine looking up in the garden was like this.

When God created the first two people, he declared that the original partnership was very good. It was the only part of creation that earned the adverb “very.” In that beginning, the original pair did not blame and fear one another. They worked together with grace and dignity. Humanity had that “let’s all hold hands and get along” thing down, I tell you. But then, there were only two of them. How much conflict can you get into?

Enough.
It ended. Rather abruptly. 
We’ve been talking about the image of God and what that means every day. How do we discover our identity, what we were born to be and do, by knowing more about that image? 
We’ve figured out that being created in God’s image means displaying his character and growing up, like kids, to “look” more like him. It means having his vision for my future and the future of the Kingdom. It means taking on the responsibility of being his ambassador of light in a dark world. Doing what he would do. 
One huge aspect of “doing what he would do” lies at the heart of the Genesis story. If all people are created in his image, and if that image is still to be protected and valued even after we completely messed it up (Genesis 9.6), what does that mean for how we value other human beings? 
If my purpose is to hold his vision dearer than anything I can dream of myself, I need to seriously look at that original relationship—and then at how we relate to one another now. God’s vision was made clear in the garden. People are equal. People are precious. People are the most beautiful thing He created. 
What am I going to do with that?
What I should be going to do is let the rest of the world see how it was meant to be. Let them know God had a plan. Make it clear that I’m committed to restoring that original plan. Even if it’s not a popular commitment.

Who Is God’s Image Again?


I listened to a panel of pastors and others recently talk about racism, privilege, and power. One of the young men told the story of going to Ferguson to participate in nonviolent protest. He spoke of standing face to face with police officers and looking into their eyes. “I could see clearly that neither one of us wanted to hurt the other. We were both people, looking in one another’s eyes. Looking at another person who wanted peace. But we were stuck on opposite sides. Most people don’t want to hurt anyone—we know we’re all the same people.” 
Those aren’t his exact words, but that was the scene he painted. People who want to treat one another right, but a world that is so filled with complication, so far from what the original order was meant to be, we don’t really know how. 
  • Osama bin Laden was made in the image of God.
  • Michael Brown and Darren Wilson were made in the image of God.
  • Every illegal immigrant you’ve ever seen, talked to, or read about was made in the image of God.
  • Every girl trafficked for sex was made in the image of God. So was her pimp.
  • The person who annoys you next door or in the next pew was made in the image of God.
  • The kid in youth group who just unleashed the longest string of profanity you’ve ever heard put together was made in the image of God.
  • The slow old lady up ahead, the grocery checker who made a mistake when you were in a hurry, the kid you just cut from the team are all made in the image of God.

What am I going to do with that?
Darn, but I don’t think God made any exceptions when he said humans were made in his image. And that we are to love them. I don’t see any annotations next to those pretty all-inclusive verses. 
Why not? Because as his image, we know two things. One, we are called to restore what his original plan was. Two, the moment I look at you as a lesser being, I forget that I am you.  . I am of the same materials. If I look in the mirror, I should see you as much as I see me. I should be able to look at those who stand against me and recognize myself. If I’m living as God’s ambassador, I should look into any eyes at all and see like Jesus would. In fact, I should see Jesus himself.
The world around us tells us we should treat everyone equally and be kind to all. Why? Because . . . well, we’re not sure really, but it seems like a good idea. It’s warm and fuzzy and gets a lot of Facebook likes. It often works out well in practice. So yeah, love your neighbor. That’s a good thing to do.
No wonder it doesn’t motivate a lot of us to change.

The Real Reason


How about this? Treat everyone equally because everyone has the same stamp of the Almighty on his or her soul. And as his ambassadors, we have the chance to help them uncover it. To help another human soul recognize his or her identity as God’s own. To see the spark of joy and empowerment and pure light that comes from that recognition dawning. We get to be a part of that. We get to see it happen–when we start seeing others as fellow image bearers, no matter what.
The other thing to understand, though, is that love is a verb, not a nice feeling. We can’t get away with, “Hey, I love them with the love of God. But they’ve got to conform to my standards before I’ll do anything more.” Love always does something. It never pats someone on the head and moves on. It gets in the mud and pulls people out of it, because no one can discover their true identity covered in muck. And no one can get out of it alone. I couldn’t. 
Respecting the image of God means we can’t turn away from damage that is done to it. It requires us to call out injustice. It begs us to stand up for others until they can stand for themselves. That’s what God did, still does, for us. Jesus stood up for us on the cross. We never could have. 
Yet some days we can’t stand up for our neighbor, friend, coworker, or that person at church. They are to blame. They should apologize first. They should prove they care for me first. Guess what? Jesus didn’t require that, and I’m glad. While we were yet sinners, he died for us. He didn’t ask for apologies or qualifications first. He didn’t inspect skin color, economic status, gender, nationality, or morality. He didn’t say he’d die for only those who agreed with his politics, word choice, ideas for how to run a church, or theology. While we still rejected him, he died. Thank God.
To be his image is to see the “very good” of Genesis in everyone.  . It’s to look at another soul and recognize the same image that is in you. Every human soul. How can I act hatefully toward my own face?

Next week, we’ll actually ask that question. It’s not as easy as it sounds.