Death was a concept not yet introduced to the world in Genesis 4. At least not in the physical sense. For all we know our remote ancestors thought that death equaled thorns in the earth and pain in childbirth. That’s it.
Thorns + pain = death. Not so bad. We can live with death.
Now, unless Eve or any of her granddaughters had suffered a miscarriage or one of their kids was killed in an accident, which neither instance is recorded in Scripture, no person before them had ever ceased to breathe. But an ugly reminder kept looming in the back of their minds: upon the sentence for their crime, God said that they would return to the ground from which they came. So far, thorns and pain didn’t result in that.
“So what then,” they must have wondered, “would be the cause of that?” Was God just being symbolic? I’m sure they noticed a change in the animal’s behaviors when darkness fell over the earth with that juicy crunch of fruit. The lion no longer slept with the lamb but hunted it. What went through their minds when they saw a spider catch a fly in its web the first time and proceeded to suck its blood?
But that was how animals died: they ate each other. The human race is unique, they would have rightfully reasoned; clearly we are separated from the animal kingdom in many ways. Adam knew that, because he was unwilling to take any of them as his bride.
But then, even the plants died, but not through means of being eaten. They simply withered away into dry flakes and were swept off by the cold winds. People surely can’t die like plants since we’re so unlike them as well… Unless God made it clear to them what exactly death was, I don’t think they could have comprehended the idea of a funeral for a loved one, or recalling the memory of one who no longer exists on earth. That being the case, they never would have dreamed of what their eldest son would teach them concerning life and death.
We have no idea how long Cain harbored jealousy against his younger brother. We don’t even know how long he had been plotting to kill him, or if it was just a spur of the moment instinct, or even that he meant to kill him at all. It’s doubtful he even thought such an act was even possible. He’d seen hawks pluck mice off the ground and lions take down elephants, but he had neither beak nor fangs. Surely when they wrestled as kids it didn’t take long to learn that a nose could be damaged by a crack of the knuckles or a leg could be punctured by a tree branch. Maybe Cain just intended to push his brother to the very furthest limits of pain.
Abel’s death taught the world what God meant when He pronounced that we would return to the ground from which we came. Surprisingly, the next two recorded deaths, supposing they were recorded chronologically, also resulted from murder. Cain’s great, great grandson Lamech (Noah’s father) murdered “a man for wounding me and a boy for striking me” (Genesis 4:23b).
We must all, then, die like animals, Adam must have thought. He ended up being the first person to be recorded of dying a non-violent death at the age of 930 and passed away like a withered plant.
And the world has been experiencing death ever since. And guess what. We’re still not used it. After we’ve heard stories of trillions of people dying throughout all of history in almost every sick and peaceful way imaginable, we still are jolted by the news of a loved one or famous figure passing away. Death does not sit right with us, and it never will. Even the hardened war general is often stunned by his own mortality in his clearest moments.
But this is good news. Death should not become commonplace with us. God forbid we ever grow comfortable with it. Why? Because it’s not natural. Death (or thorns or pain) was not part of the original design of life. It is a consequence that we must live with for a while, hence the pain it brings when it rears its ugly head.
Because when the curse is lifted, and the fog of sin clears away, we will one day see life everlasting, the way God meant for it to be. The only reason that we can look forward to that is because God’s Son took on the curse Himself. Pain, thorns, and all. And by dying for us, He essentially pressed the rewind button on death so that someday, every body will be resurrected from the earth and every person will stand before God and give an account for his life.
This is great news for those who believe in Christ as their savior. But this is dreadful for the many more who chose not to believe in the resurrection of life – namely, Christ’s resurrection.
But death didn’t enter the world upon Cain’s murder. Death entered the world as soon as Adam and Eve broke God’s first and only commandment, and chose the wrong side of the line to stand on when the serpent drew sides in the garden.
Because of that, we are born dead. Each of us, separated from God, the giver of life. We grow up, experiencing birthday parties and happy moments, but in the grand scale of our lives, there is no meaning, and we’re really no different than zombies meandering our way through our five day work weeks, just trying to pay the bills on time. A life lived apart from Christ is a walking death.
Only through faith in Jesus Christ will you find life the way it was meant to be. You will still have to live with the consequences of our sins, but when you return to the earth from which you came or Christ comes back, He will usher you into your new Heaven and new Earth, and just as it was before Cain struck Able, nay, before Adam and Eve ate that fruit, we will not know the meaning of death, and we will never have to toss another spade of dirt on a casket again.