Is ‘ādām unclean, trampled ‘ādāmāh? Can ‘ādām be re-formed, given New Life?Lotso’s answer is that “we’re all just trash waitin’ to be thrown away! That’s all a toy is!” Contrast this to Paul’s baptismal passages, for example, Rom 6:3-11.
In the Toy Story trilogy, being marked by Andy’s name not only changes how his toys see themselves but how they see toys who are not Andy’s. At first, Buzz and Woody are terrified by Sid’s warped and misfit toys—a doll’s head on spider legs, a bodiless hand, a car with legs, a muscular torso with a duck’s head, doll’s legs with a fishing pole. They’re ugly. They’re broken. Buzz and Woody think they’re cannibals.
The Image and the Other
Part of the problem is Sid’s toys are voiceless. They have no way to tell Buzz and Woody who they are and what’s happened to them. So, Buzz and Woody construct a false narrative for them: they eat their own. Because of this, when these ugly, broken toys try to stop Buzz and Woody from endangering themselves by trying to escape, Buzz and Woody think that they’ll be the next meal. Only after these toys fix Buzz’s severed arm—with no help from Woody who berates them verbally and physically—do Buzz and Woody realize the truth. These toys want to be whole, and they don’t want any other toy to suffer their fate. Ultimately, Buzz and Woody no longer see these toys as the Other, instead they see that these toys need their help and care. They need to be a voice for the voiceless. (Woody even breaks one of the chief tenets of being a toy to speak for them, verbally informing Sid that toys don’t like being mangled.)
In Cain and Abel we have another story of the image and the Other. Adam and Eve were so excited when their first son was born. Eve faithfully believed he was the son, the cursebreaker (Gen 3:15). But Adam and Eve thought very little of Abel, their second son. For them he was nothing, literally, they named him hebel—“nothingness.” But then why did the Lord regard this nobody’s offering and not Cain’s? This is not how the story is supposed to go, Cain thought. He, not Abel, was the firstborn, the cursebreaker, the promised one. Clearly something had gone wrong. Knowing how the story was supposed to end, Cain invited his brother to his field and murdered him. When he was confronted by God, he felt no remorse for what he had done. Strangely, perhaps unjustly by our human standards, God did not obliterate Cain. Instead he marked him, giving him the promise of life—if only Cain would live into it.
What is Cain’s problem? Why did he kill his brother? Why did he feel no remorse? It is because of Cain’s identity. He knows who he is, who he is supposed to be. The problem is that because of this he lived proudly and arrogantly. Ironically it is the knowledge of his identity that causes him to fail, to fall short of that identity. He made the mistake of thinking this identity was his, not a gift mercifully and graciously given. He made the mistake of thinking it was all about him. He made the mistake of thinking he was his own. As a result of these mistakes, Cain ignored two divine imperatives, bringing about a redoubling of the curse of Genesis 3 (vv. 17-19). First, Cain was to cherish God’s Word: as potential cursebreaker he was to be a proclaimer of the promises of God. Second, Cain was to preserve life; he was to keep his brother. In both these things Cain tragically failed.
Caring for the Other
As we reflect on this story, we must remember that this is a story about Cain, not Abel. Abel is Not-Cain; he is the Other. And we should read the story this way. In what ways do we as YHWH’s toys reflect Cain rather than Abel? We know who we are. We know we are blessed. We know we are salt and light to the world. But how do we treat Not-Us? The Other? Do we think, like Woody, that we are God’s favorites?
The story of Cain and Abel, I believe, is the first time in Scripture that we are exhorted to care for the Other. Unfortunately, Cain failed miserably. Cain turned from cursebreaker to cursemaker, from dragon-slayer to dragon. The patriarchs tried to care for the Other, but ultimately Moses had to encode this lesson as law. The people of Israel must show lovingkindness to the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow (Deut 24). These three groups have no name; they lack a promise of future life. And names are important—they establish relationship which is a different kind of vulnerability. A vulnerability the triune God gladly accepted (Ex 3:14).see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, trans. Adrian J. Walker (Doubleday, 2007), 143-44, 347.
So, will we recognize the Name, the mark that YHWH has given our fellow image-bearers? Even if, like Cain and Woody, they don’t live into it? Even if, like Abel and Sid’s toys, they seem unimportant, broken or ugly? We all want to be valued and loved. Rather than tell others answers or why we think we’re valuable and lovable, we need first to listen and empathize with our fellow image-bearers. “Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story”—a reminder that Fred Rogers carried with him at all times. Andrew Stanton, “The Clues to a Great Story,” February 2012.
Only by correctly orienting ourselves toward the Triune Name we bear are we able to discuss the difficult questions in our communities and churches today. How will our conversations shift if we approach one another and our conversation partners as people-Eve-has-gotten (see Gen 4:1)? As those marked with the image of God? We are cursebreakers, not merely because we are children of Eve, but because we are children of the true Cursebreaker, Jesus of Nazareth. We also must remember that we are—or were—Cain. We have dark and murderous pasts. Nevertheless, in his mercy the Father, the creator of life, chooses us; the Son, our life, redeems us; and the Holy Spirit, the sustainer of life, dwells in us.
Remembering the Mark
We, like Cain, have a mark, a promise in the midst of our curse. This promise turns us from who we are (dust, ’ādāmāh) and what we do (toil, ‘ōbēd ’ādāmāh) to our God, who he is and what he does. We must live in the context of that mark. There we are united. In Christ through baptism God has made us his people. Will we remember the mark? Will we orient ourselves toward it? Will we live into this identity? Will we share the Name with the Other? “God’s image,” John Calvin writes in his Institutes, “by which [others] are commended to you, is so worthy that you should offer to it yourself and all your possessions.” Institutes 3.7.6; quoted from John L. Thompson, ed., Genesis 1–11, Reformation Commentary on Scripture Old Testament 1 (IVP Academic, 2012), 53.