What happened to Cain?
He was the son of Adam and Eve, devout parents who taught their children to worship God. (See Moses 5:1-12.) Yet after his brother’s offering was accepted and his was not, Cain became angry.
“Why art thou wroth?” asked the Lord. “and why is thy countenance fallen?” (Genesis 4:6, Moses 5:22). Just as He had done in the Garden of Eden, God asked questions to encourage Cain to discuss what he was experiencing. But Cain was not willing to engage in this uncomfortable process. He “was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord” (Moses 5:26). Adam and Eve saw all of this happening and “mourned before the Lord, because of Cain” (Moses 5:27).
Cain killed Abel, not in the heat of passion but as a premeditated attack. He swore some of his other siblings to secrecy before committing the murder, because he didn’t want his parents to know that he was responsible for Abel’s death (Moses 5:29-33). Both Mormon and Moroni pointed to Cain as the precedent for the secret combinations which arose among the Jaredites (Ether 8:15) and among the Nephites (Helaman 6:27).
Cain’s response to God’s inquiry about his brother is the height of hypocrisy. God, continuing His socratic teaching approach, asked Cain, “Where is Abel, thy brother?” Cain deflected the question with a question of his own: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). A keeper is a guardian, someone who looks after or takes care of someone else. God wasn’t asking about Abel because Cain was somehow responsible for him; He was asking to give Cain the opportunity to admit his wrongdoing. But consistent with his desire to keep his crime a secret, Cain feigned innocence.
The implication of Cain’s question was that no one had assigned him to look after his brother. But we don’t need a formal assignment to “bear one another’s burdens,” to “mourn with those that mourn,” and to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8).
“I may not be my brother’s keeper,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “[but] I am my brother’s brother, and ‘because I have been given much, I too must give.'” (“Are We Not All Beggars?” General Conference, October 2014).
President Thomas S. Monson answered the question even more definitively: “Yes,” he said, “we are our brothers’ keepers.” Then, he added:
God bless all who endeavor to be their brother’s keeper, who give to ameliorate suffering, who strive with all that is good within them to make a better world. Have you noticed that such individuals have a brighter smile? Their footsteps are more certain. They have an aura about them of contentment and satisfaction—even dedication—for one cannot participate in helping others without experiencing a rich blessing himself.“Our Brothers’ Keepers,” Ensign, June 1998
In December 2020, Elder Dale G. Renlund reminded us that following health guidelines during a pandemic is one way to serve as “keeper” of the people around us. “As individuals, as families, and as a Church,” he wrote, “we will be judged by how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies…. Wearing a face covering is a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters” (“Our Brother’s Keeper,” facebook post, 4 December 2020).
Today, I will remember that I can choose to take responsibility for helping to keep others safe. I will do what I can to alleviate suffering and to show respect and love for all of my brothers and sisters.
Thanks Paul! I love that thought that “I am my brother’s brother” and the reminder that I should be doing all I can to serve the marginalized and disadvantaged (inclusive of my physically and mentally infirm brothers and sisters). How we treat the “least of these” truly is the measure of the virtue in ourselves and our society.
Thanks for the comment! I appreciate your input as I formulated this post as well.