Genesis 4:9 (ESV) … “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain’s religion was marked by four things. It was characterized by force (4:8). Boiling with rage, Cain sought out his brother in the field. We wonder what they talked about. Did Abel offer Cain a lamb and the use of his altar? Perhaps so, for the Bible says, “Cain talked with Abel his brother.”
From listening to Cain’s spiritual heirs we can well imagine the kind of thing he would have said. “Your religion is disgusting and offensive, a religion of the shambles. Your gospel is a gospel of gore. It is repulsive to a refined, sensitive, moral human being. And what did it cost you? Nothing! Look how much effort I put into my religion. I refuse to believe my effort is worthless. Look at your disgusting altar! Look at it, red with blood, black with smoke, stinking to high heaven! Look at mine! Look how beautiful it is. Come and smell the herbs and flowers. Confess that my way is better than yours.”
Then, possibly infuriated by Abel’s quiet testimony, Cain, whose religion was too refined to slay a lamb, plunged his knife into his brother’s heart. Thus he stamped one of the greatest of all hallmarks on false religion. It is characterized by force, by persecution, by the martyrdom of those who stand for God’s truth. Before it was an hour old, Cain’s religion produced the world’s first martyr. Every drop of blood shed on earth ever since, in the name of religion, helps mark out the violent way of Cain.
It was marked by falsehood (4:9). “And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” With brash insolence Cain lied in the very face of God. That was what He thought of the holiness, righteousness, and omniscience of God! Thus it is with all false religion. It propagates, in God’s name, a gigantic lie. For at the heart of all false religion are deception and fraud and, in God’s name, it propagates the most atrocious untruths.
It was marked by futility (4:10–12), for God simply stripped away the falsehoods, exposing Cain and his religion for what they were. “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground … a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” True faith made Abraham “a pilgrim and a stranger” on the earth. False religion made Cain a fugitive and a vagabond. He was a lost and cursed man who could find no rest and no peace on the earth. His life would be a wilderness, meaningless and wasted. Satisfaction would evade him, his energies would be dissipated, his life spoiled. He would spend his days wandering away from God. Such are the fruits of false religion.
It was characterized by fear (4:13–15). “My punishment,” cried Cain, “is greater than I can bear … every one that findeth me shall slay me.” There was no repentance in Cain’s religion, no remorse, just resentment against his lot. He feared the avenging hand of man, but it concerned him little that God’s hand was against him. His religion had brought him only greater guilt, deep unrest, lasting unhappiness, and pursuing fear. God cannot allow the sinner to be at peace, in his innermost soul, while enmeshed in error. The founder of the world’s first false religion wandered the earth a vagabond and sank at last into a nameless grave at an unrecorded age.
He left his mark behind him in a great and thriving civilization, as many founders of false religions have done. He founded a civilization characterized by great social, secular, and scientific activity. But it was all sinful activity, for it ignored Christ and led directly to the Flood.