Religion was invented early in human history. In fact, it was invented by the first man born into this world – Cain. He established the basic tenets for every man-made religion since then – human reason and personal merit based on works.
When he was born, his mother gave Cain a name showing she hoped he would be the Saviour. She was one of two human beings who saw the world fresh from the hands of God before sin came in and changed everything. She witnessed the havoc that sin caused and heard with her own ears that God would send the Saviour through one of her descendants. We don’t know how long it was until Abel, Cain’s younger brother, was born, but by that time, she was sorely disillusioned by Cain’s behavior, so Abel’s name means “vanity.”
Cain grew up to be a farmer while his younger brother became a shepherd. They heard from their parents how paradise was lost when Adam and Eve listened to the deceitful words of Satan. Perhaps their father took them on a trip to look from a safe distance on the fearsome angel on guard at the entrance to Eden. They learned how they must approach God, and how God had sacrificed an animal to clothe Adam and Eve. Undoubtedly, they witnessed their father making sacrifices for the family; always a blood sacrifice, for this was God’s way.
Then one day it was their turn. They were men, and now they were to offer their first sacrifices to God. Cain’s offering would have been striking – choice vegetables, crops, and beautiful flowers arranged to please the eye. Abel’s sacrifice was in sharp contrast – when the smoke cleared, the ashes of the small lamb on charred stone were all that were left. Yet God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. Cain became angry, ignored God’s grace-filled warning, killed his brother, and turned his back on God.
Ironic, is it not, that religion and murder joined hand-in-hand at the beginning? Yet not surprising in our modern world, where headlines announce with heart-breaking frequency atrocity after atrocity done in the name of human religion. A quick study of intervening human history shows this is nothing new – consider the Christian crusades or Islamic jihad. Cain’s religion developed into a kind of humanism, growing alongside remarkable technological, social, and artistic advances, yet ending in a society so vile and amoral that God sent a worldwide flood to completely destroy it.
Sin is ugly. Its effects are all too obvious in cemeteries, prisons, and hospitals. It is so offensive to God that it requires a radical cure, a blood payment. God’s Word is very clear: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). Human religion balks at the story of God showing His love through the cross of Jesus Christ, but human reason and personal merit, like Cain’s sacrifice, will not result in acceptance by God. We can only come to God via Calvary. That was how Abel came.
God’s Word clearly warns us against “the way of Cain” (Jude 11), the path of all who refuse to believe, and who choose human religion over the cross of Jesus Christ.