Can I/Should I

I stated in one of my earlier blog posts that I was going to start a word study to see how many times the words “can” and “cannot” appear in the Bible. From everything I’ve been able to gather so far, the word “can” appears 213 times. I have taken the time to write down each verse, and I have just started to separate each one into various categories. This has been an ongoing project for quite a while, and I have a long way to go before it will be completed.

The first category is called “can/should”. Every one of us has the ability to consciously make choices. We must weigh the consequences before we make those choices. For instance, with running, I no longer question whether or not I have the ability to run. God has helped me prove that one to myself over and over during the last few months. However, I am now learning to listen to my body. If my heart starts to beat too fast or if I can’t catch my breath, it’s not that hard for me to figure out that I may have a heart attack if I do not choose to slow down. I like to train myself to go faster as much as possible, but occasionally I have to ask myself if I am physically ready to run faster or if I should back off just a little.

People in the Bible also made choices all of the time, just like we do in our lives. Like us, they did not always make the right ones. The first time the word “can” appears in the King James Version of the Bible is in Genesis 4:13. It says, “And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.” The New American Standard Bible translates the verse this way: “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear!'”

If you are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, you will remember that both of them chose to disobey God. Their son Cain followed suit. He and his brother Abel brought offerings to God. Both men had the ability to give time and careful thought to their offerings, but only one of them truly obeyed by giving his absolute best (verse 4 says Abel gave of the “firstlings of his flock”). As a result, God gave favor to Abel. Cain made the choice not to give his best. Instead of facing his consequences, he got jealous and killed his own brother . . . another choice. Cain had the ability to choose to do right, but he chose to do wrong instead. God then punished Cain by making the ground he tilled unfruitful and by banishing him and making him a wanderer in his own land. Again, instead of choosing to accept God’s punishment, Cain chose self-pity. The beauty of all of that is that God chose to protect Cain. Verse 15 says, “And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him”.

In running, I make choices all of the time. I make choices about how far I want to run, my running pace, the location, etc. I have to weigh the consequences each time. What are the risks if I choose to go alone? What are the benefits of running in the morning instead of the afternoon . . . or vice versa? The choices I make are based on what I feel is best for myself at the time, and sometimes I fail even when I may have had the best intentions. No matter what, I have to learn to deal with the consequences every single time.

Cain could have chosen to obey God with his offering, but he consciously made the choice to disobey. There has been some debate about whether or not God specifically commanded that the sacrifices brought by Cain and Abel must be blood sacrifices. I have heard arguments on that subject from all sides. The Bible does not seem to be clear about that. Regardless of the specifics of the sacrifices, what is clear is that Cain chose to offer his sacrifice as a last-minute duty, whereas Abel viewed God worthy enough to take the time to offer his very best. Cain’s choices spiraled downward. His choice to murder his own brother is not only a result of not asking himself ahead of time whether or not he should do it or what the results would be; it is a result of his bitter and angry heart. He did not consider his consequences ahead of time.

My choice to constantly overeat was a result of a lack of self-control and anxiety. Even now, I have to consider the consequences of much of what I put in my mouth. I am daily improving with my portion control. Being a member of Weight Watchers has helped me to remain accountable to my health.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that accountability is God’s way of keeping us from making wrong choices. It is also His way of drawing us back to Himself when we slip up. God could have chosen not to protect Cain in verse 15, but He showed mercy instead.

As much as I ask myself whether or not I should do something before I do it (notice I did not say whether or not I can do it), there have been times when I make mistakes. I am so thankful for the mercy that God extends to me every single time and for the things He teaches me along the way.

Before we participate in anything, we should not ask ourselves whether or not we can do it; we should ask ourselves if we should do it, and consider the consequences ahead of time. As Christians, we should also ask ourselves what God wants us to do. It might save us a lot of headaches . . . and heartaches later on!

Until next time . . . let’s keep on running!!

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