The wind picked up as the deep clouds rolled our way.

When the boys had stepped away, I said, “Adam, this is not—”

 “There’s nothing wrong in offering to God what we have.”

“Is that what you think Cain is doing?”

My husband rose quietly and headed toward the river. I might have called for him to go fetch our sons, but I did not.

And now I wonder how things might have turned out if only I had.

***

When the bank of clouds arrived and our sons failed to return, Adam went to find them. But somehow I already knew. A mother knows these things. Even before he returned with the body of my younger son in his arms, a deep ache had begun to gnaw at me.

Abel hung in his arms limp and still like an animal, like one of the lambs. No breath. Adam laid him down and I collapsed beside my dead son.

Dust to dust.

Then I screamed my grief into the blackened sky.

I lost two sons today.

And now I cry out to the Lord, begging him for a new life, for a new hope, and the howl of the wind on the edge of the skies is his only reply.

***

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Gen. 4:8–11)

This is where it all began.

In a garden with a choice, in a field with a body. That’s the legacy of humankind—the quest to be like gods, the elevation of self over others. The firstborn human murdering the second and a shattered mother weeping in the dark.

According to the Bible, things between God and humans were not always as they are now. Now we have these cliffs of pride that humility struggles to scale, these depths of despair that drown our joy, this friction between us, within us. We have arguments and grudges, fistfights and muggings, incest and abortion. None of this was in the original plan.

In the beginning, harmony existed between us and God, between us and creation, between us and each other, and, in a very real sense, between us and ourselves.

Most people feel it inside of them, a smoldering knowledge that we are not what we were meant to be; we’re nagged with a hunger for eternity. Even those who reject believing in God don’t seem to be able to shake the thought that a bigger purpose must be at work, a deeper joy available somewhere.

The tempter is real.

Our choices separate us from unity with the divine.

We’ve been cast out of the garden of clarity, of harmony, because we have sought and picked and eaten the forbidden fruit.

***

Here’s something I’ve been learning the hard way: I’m never free from temptation. It might be the temptation to slant the truth in my direction when it benefits me, or to yell at my daughter when she won’t stop picking on her little sister, or to lash out in anger when the world doesn’t tilt my way.

I struggle with big things and I struggle with little things—anger, materialism, impatience, frustration, disappointment, and a rather unhealthy addiction to chips and salsa. Dissatisfaction in the world. The root of the fall itself.

And I’ve found that no matter where I travel or what I’m doing, I’m just one thought away or one action away from stepping over the line and entering the land of the forbidden.

Every day, every hour, every minute of our lives we have the opportunity to either say “yes” to God or “yes” to ourselves. That’s why Jesus emphasized something I don’t hear much about at churches these days—denying yourself: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). I think he found it necessary to say that because, while most of us want to do what God wants, we also want to do what we want. And that’s where the problems begin.