One of the earliest Christian theologians (thinkers, interpreters) shared a profound way of reading these scriptures. Origen was a Christian leader in the early 200’s amid a very unorganized faith (the New Testament was not yet compiled, and the creeds hadn’t yet been created for another 100+ years!), mass persecution, and challenges of understanding the nature of God and salvation.
In his teachings, he implies that there are three levels of scripture engagement. The most basic level is the Body (Mind), or the obvious meaning—the literal or historical. This is where we all begin—reading the words on the page. The second level is that of Soul. The soul level is where we seek moral and ethical teachings that mold our character and sense of right/wrong. At this level, we are seeking to understand our boundaries and interrelation with others. The third level is Spirit. Spirit is the level of understanding the Reality, Being or God. This sees beyond cultural practices of ancient times and sees the ‘Perennial Wisdom’ of God, as Fr. Richard Rohr would say. Or as St. Thomas Aquinas boldly declared, ‘All truth is God’s truth. If you have found truth, you have found God.”
It seems much of the debates within our faith center around the Body level of interpretation. Literal interpretation is the lowest level of interpretation. Why? I think because it often doesn’t make us look deeply within. The more we read these scriptures, ask deepening questions and seek God, the less literal we read these words. When we read a story like Cain and Abel, many know that this can’t be a factual story, yet it is true about the story of us. Just the logic of only two people being birthed by their parents and suddenly Cain is frightened by what others would do to him doesn’t jive.
This story is better placed in the allegory lens. It is the fine art of story-telling to deliver a deeper message. What are the messages at the soul level? What does this message speak to about God and truth? As a helpful hint, Origen believed in the freedom of will to choose and would read this account as Cain’s self-directed choice and consequences therein.