My Brother’s Keeper

By F. Willis Johnson

F. Willis Johnson

F. Willis Johnson

As brothers, Cain and Abel are representative of humanity. As humans, we too are linked together in a variety of ways. And yet as a community we are irresponsible, inattentive and insensitive toward our very selves — the brothers and sisters in our human community. We continue to mimic Cain’s morally reprehensible interrogative, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The rhetorical but relevant question posited by God, “Where is your brother Abel?” remains unanswered. Abel’s blood still cries out, along with the blood of too many young men, women, boys and girls of diverse races in near and faraway places. They are cries of retribution, cries of retaliation and cries of reprisal demanding a response. That is why…

When faced with disgrace, God dispenses grace. God’s response to Cain’s disgraceful act and remonstration of Abel’s blood from the ground is a powerful witness. It reveals how Christians can exercise grace while grappling with the complexities of unresolved and unjust issues.

God acknowledges a wrong has been committed, yet responds righteously.
Under no pretense does anyone deserve to lose life. Each of us holds inalienable and civil rights, but they do not privilege us to infringe upon the rights of others. We cannot legislate love or adjudicate right relationship. Justice often is interpreted as what benefits a small group of ‘just us,’ but our interpretations are only interpretations. Neither the world nor systems have final say. What is politically correct, socially conscious, even legally warranted may be right, but not be righteous — not aligned with God’s will. Ultimately, God alone executes judgment. God is the final authority — and may grant judgment or allowance — in all matters.

God affirms the sacredness and pain of persons. God asserts Cain’s significance with an identifying mark. The mark was not a scarlet letter. It was a sign of God’s divine affection and Cain’s vulnerability. Truth be told, God loves us in spite of ourselves. Confirmation of that love is the willingness to meet each of us in our condition with unconditional love. Affirmation should not be viewed as complacency on God’s part. In fact, God’s affirmation is an act of assertive compassion, particularly for the disinherited. There is no one manner in which to think or behave. People who are hurting need to be affirmed in their hurt; people who are angry need to be affirmed in their anger. This way of listening and hearing one another is called empathy, a core value of human relationship and community.

God advances the cause. Cain, representative of the worst in each of us, is given another chance. We are extended opportunities by God to advance the cause. Our words and actions should not turn us against one another. Instead they should draw us closer together. Our words and actions should demonstrate true community, as we search for and expect to find the good in one another, as we lift each other up. This is not only a shared reality, but also a collective responsibility. It is a human imperative that we not act selfishly, but strive towards furthering our collective interest. As Martin Luther King Jr. posited, “We are inextricably connected to each other… caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of resting.”

We must recognize that our lives matter. Our faith assures that peace while it is beyond our understanding is not beyond our grasp. As disciples of Christ we are called to express our hope by means of grace.

Willis Johnson is the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri. A version of this article first appeared at