Gen 4:6-7: And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
The question asked by the writer is: Why did God say to Cain that “if he did what was right he would be accepted, if there were no chance of his ever being accepted at all anyhow?” "Why is it that you believe that God was being so deceptive with him? I don't think there can possibly be an explanation to this.”
The answer is: Because it was true: IF Cain obeyed, God would accept him. And IF pigs had wings, they could fly. That is not a snide remark—it is true---IF the qualifications are fulfilled. Moreover, it is the nature of language to have multiple meanings for a word or a combination of words. What readers seek is a particular meaning. The questioner takes the “if” as an ‘if’ of actuality, the indicative of what Cain can do. I, however, agreeing with Luther, take it to mean an ‘if’ of possibility, the imperative of what Cain should do:
“Here is the matter in a nutshell: As I said, by statements of this sort, man is shown, not what he can do, but what he ought to do. Cain is therefore told that he ought to rule over his sin…But this he neither did nor could do, for the rule of another, Satan, already bore heavily upon him. It is well known that the Hebrews often use the future indicative [the imperfect, ed.] for the imperative, as in Exodus 20: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’…and there are countless such cases. If these words were taken indicatively [as stating that the listeners can & will not commit adultery], as they stand, they would be promises of God; and, since He cannot lie, the result would be that no man would sin…”
[Luther, Bondage of the Will, p. 157]
Or to speak more plainly: taking the understanding of ‘if’ as implying the ability of the person in question, then the questioner is actually endorsing the ability of man to obey God. In this case, it would be Cain who could obey God. In the case of the Ten Commandments, if ought (or should) implies ability, then Israel could obey God. Then grace is meaningless & Christ did not need to come. The same holds for the New Testament: Christ calls men to obedience to His Law: if you love Him you will keep His commandments. But from the Biblical doctrine of the depravity of man and the salvific necessity of grace, such verses do no imply ability at all. They only indicate the duty not the ability.
From a grammatical point of view, the imperative or subjunctive is not the same as the indicative (the present actual state of things). Thus, again, Luther aptly points out: “…nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative [commands] mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative.” [ibid, p.159]
Then why does God use such language? Again, I will let the spiritual forefather of Protestantism speak:
“As for its being absurd that (according to the analogy introduced by Erasmus) a man whose right arm was bound should be ordered to stretch forth his hand to the right, when he could only reach out to his left—is it absurd, pray, that a man who has both arms bound, but who proudly maintains or ignorantly assumes that he is wholly competent in either direction, should be commanded to stretch forth his hand in one direction or the other, not in order to make fun of his captivity, but to disprove his false assumption of freedom and power, and to make him realize his ignorance of his own captivity and miser?” [ibid, p. 161]
Biblically, one of the functions of the law is to condemn man and show his spiritual inability to do any good: “by the law is knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Thus, what one understands about sin and ability is intimately tied with this question of Cain, sin & the will of God.
Why did God say this to Cain? 1) To show his guilt; 2) To show his inability. From God’s ultimate perspective, He spoke to Cain for His own glory (Rom. 9:23). There is no deception on God’s part (see especially the next posting) only on man’s: he hears a command of God and assumes that man himself can obey. There is no problem if one understands how language works and what is God’s purpose of the Law.
The real question that all Christians (who believe in God’s foreknowledge) should ask is: Why would God say anything given that the events will occur anyway?
But I suspect this will not fully answer the question behind the question. There are deeper questions of sovereignty & free-will inexorably bound with this surface question. The question of God’s will and intention are also bound up in this. These will be answered in the next installment.
Soli Deo Gloria