A Remedial Shift to the Esau-Jacob Model: An Internal Monologue

By Incheol Son

As a second-generation Unificationist, I’ve suffered for a long time from the Cain-Abel model, a prototype relationship that has been applied to almost all kinds of personal as well as official relationships in the Unification movement.

The Cain-Abel model in the Divine Principle is one of the key concepts that have long been promoted. It describes the nature of relationships inside the first human family that ended with great tragedy. The relationship was of the two offspring of the first human ancestors, Adam and Eve. It was the start of a subsequent series of unhappy historical events for God after their fall.

On the other hand, there’s the very successful story of the grandchildren of Abraham, the model of Esau-Jacob, which has not been promoted that much relative to the Cain-Abel model. Yet, it was surely a restored and successful relationship and thus it laid the foundation for the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, from the family’s lineage. The reason why this latter model has been less promoted is the Esau-Jacob model is full of fallen human nature such as deception, running away, fighting back, betrayal, and total surrender in fear.

But, I believe now is the time we may need to intentionally move on to the next phase and start promoting the Esau-Jacob model more than habitually sticking to the first tragic Cain and Abel model. This is mainly because a trauma has been bequeathed to us, especially to the second and third generations, as a scar deep in our spirit. We’ve been inculcated with such traumatic and guilty feelings from early on, even from the mother’s womb, in the cradle, at Sunday service, to the university, the church, and providential organizations.

Fortunately, I am now somewhat recovered from such traumatic feelings.

The release from these traumatic feelings occurred when I realized the Cain-Abel model did not fit with reality all the time and was not the only model we could apply to human relationships. I rediscovered there was another model of human relationships between Esau and Jacob that had brought a great victory to the history of the providence. Yes, it is full of less admirable aspects of human nature such as deception. But I believe Abel should have been wiser in front of his elder brother Cain. It would have been much better than being killed by him. Abel should have been able to lie to Cain sometimes for the sake of the higher good. The first lie or deception in human history would have been much better than falling victim in the first homicide.

If it had been possible, their parents should have been much wiser to win over the relationship, even utilizing the strategy of deception similar to that used by Jacob’s mother on behalf of her younger son, Jacob. It’s much better than failure, no doubt. From my experiences and continuous trial and error over the past several decades, I should’ve been wiser to win over all my relationships with multiple Cains. I should’ve dealt with them as Esau, not just Cain. Speaking in contemporary terms, it was an ill “framing” from the beginning, though it was the deeds I did without question and doubt over what I’ve been trained to perform and put into practice.

Now as a senior second generation, I’ve been asked to counsel other second and third generation who are grappling with the same struggles. I have carefully consoled them and recommended they disregard the specific model of Cain-Abel and rather extend their “framing” to the Esau-Jacob model. Also I encouraged them to relieve themselves of any burdens and feel free from hardship in dealing in relationships with others. Then I was able to see them actually get relief from the trauma immediately after I shared with them my experiences and struggles. I believe deception is a neutral act, at least for providential purposes. If necessary, Cain should have been deceived by Abel. It would have been much better than speaking frankly but confrontationally.

The next strategy I am fond of is running away — if and when necessary. This is also wiser than to fail. Running away is not encouraged very much in my personal spiritual journey of faith. Instead, it’s recommended in the name of patience. But, the result is the same. Kids used to be encouraged to perform all kinds of heroic deeds. So running away is considered to be cowardly. Not at all! A common age-old military strategy and wise tactic is running away. In The Art of War by Sun Tzu, it is officially designated as the Thirty-Sixth stratagem. It says running away can be a wise strategy; troops sometimes need to retreat from the battlefield when at a disadvantage. It’s praised as a deed of wisdom and courage, much as Jacob chose to run away.

Also, it is highly recommended in the Divine Principle to fight back or face the challenge according to what Jacob did against the angel and as a result to be able to gain the title “Israel,” literally the “fighter of God.” But, it can be dangerous for a normal individual to realize. One could become a miserable loser. So, the actor should be wise to choose his/her battles as to whom to fight against. Esau was not the one who fought back but it was the angel. Esau is the one with whom to be harmonized in the end, and so against Esau, Jacob was right to run away from him.

As a second generation, I’ve long been educated, even sometimes compelled, to become Abel, and have had certain kinds of obligations imposed upon me. I’ve had to be patient and nice however others — so-called Cains — treated me, resulting in the total suppression of my desires and emotions.

The problem is, one day I realized that my anger toward mean people had never disappeared from my heart. Rather, it ended up being redirected and poured onto my family, children and wife. The long-time pent-up primitive energy that had been produced and transferred had found new, unintended victims. So, I felt it was meaningless to pretend to be Abel in my every-day relationships.

I determined to accept being called a loser since I decided not to pretend to be an Abel, and so I have not been Abel-like anymore. Like being half-full, however, I also felt some emptiness as well. Even though it brought me a feeling of relief, for quite a while I fell into depressed periods. But, I became surprised to review Jacob’s story. It was a really new discovery for me, but it was there for sure as another model of victorious relationship in the providence. Jacob looked much closer to me. He seemed a free and natural man, free from any guilty feeling or victimhood in human relationships.

Abel, who was murdered by his elder brother Cain, actually had a pure heart. So, he innocently boasted before Cain that his offering had been accepted by God, causing Cain to fall into ill-mindedness. The Divine Principle says it was a definite mistake of Abel’s. But the problem is, as a second generation, I have long been taught to take Abel’s position, not to repeat such a foolish mistake in order not to be killed, or lose a fortune or opportunity, by behaving humbly to all the Cains so as not to make them unhappy or jealous of me at all. That has been a constant fear for me and so I have not been able to help but regret all those resultant failures in trying to become the ideal Abel-type person.

Yes, Jacob was a cheat, coward, and a covetous and timid man. But, I think it’s time to fight back. This realization is entirely based on my personal experience, not from objective observation. In a sense, I just think I’ve long suffered from the Divine Principle. I’m by no means saying it is wrong or not the truth. You may just consider it a side-effect of an experiment with a boy who became a man, but you may be able to get a sense why many so-called failed members are suffering from the Divine Principle.

When I look at myself who has lived for several decades as a second generation in Korea, I have been so eager to observe and apply the Divine Principle in daily life.

“Reconciliation of Esau with Jacob” by Francesco Hayez (1844).

The globe is not small. For human beings who have their own free will, the probability and combination of possibilities are endless. Even in the Bible, and so in the Divine Principle as well, the ideal relationship rests not only upon the model of Cain-Abel. Alternatively, there’s the model of Esau-Jacob, which is portrayed as highly successful. But it’s not preferred in our church sermons or practices because the model contains many difficult moral choices. Oftentimes, the result justifies the process, if not all the time. This may seem far from the Divine Principle, but it is surely described in the scripture. I believe the model has not been promoted that much inside the Unificationist community, at least where I grew up.

From all my struggling throughout life, the consequences of a failure to fit the Cain-Abel model have not been the same as the Divine Principle described. For example, DP describes that once the two main actors of Cain and Abel fail in a relationship, the Abel side will lose his life and the fortune will be transferred to the third son, like Seth. But that doesn’t happen all the time in the real world. From my experience, the fortune comes back to Cain who is still alive. Many Cains in our communities are quite aware of this pattern and wisely developed the skills to most take advantage of Abels.

Sometimes, an awakened Abel changes his stance and becomes a Jacob, cleverer than Cain, and so puts Cain into Esau’s position who is supposed to be deceived and lose everything. This satisfies the rule that the final result sometimes justifies the process. It’s much better than losing a game of relationship dynamics.

That’s why I feel we have been a great experiment in human history. The Blessing is an experiment, blessed children are the fruits of such experiments, and unfortunately, so many of them become “collateral damage” or unintended side-effects, and in my observation, only a very few of whom can be claimed successes of the experiment. I am not casting blame, but simply noting the realities I see.

The problem is that all those emotions of anger, sorrow, and collapse never really disappeared but rather accumulated and eventually erupted like a volcano. In these cases, those close to me, especially my family, all became victims of that explosion. I was shocked by how I was behaving toward them and suddenly realized it was not right. Though I had been able to build my reputation professionally, internally I had never been able to control such emotions wisely. So, I decided to stop pretending to be someone who only held it in and would acquiesce to follow the Cain-Abel model.

I write this article simply to find relief from all this suffering and to heal myself. I ask for your compassion and understanding.♦

Dr. Incheol Son is the International Director of PWPA International and also works at SunHak Universal Peace Graduate University as a translator. He earned his Ph.D. in public administration from Kookmin University, an MBA from the University of Bridgeport, and his bachelor’s in theology from SunMoon University.

Painting at top: “Cain and Abel” from Drawings for the Bible by Marc Chagall (1960).

13 thoughts on “A Remedial Shift to the Esau-Jacob Model: An Internal Monologue

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    1. I don’t think you need to feel sorry at all. I’m sure you never intended or expected this kind of “collateral damage.” It has just happened naturally as a result of a Great Experiment. Now then, we need to turn to focus on healing those with spiritual trauma. As I tried healing myself, it would be really good for anyone who is concerned to look around to heal others in need, if any.

  1. This is a great insight and can be expanded to include many of the relationships in the Bible.

    Moses and Aaron, Jesus and John, and many others. In business, this pairing is called the visionary and the integrator, like Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

    When the Divine Principle is used as a framework, then the Bible stories can supply many models of success for different situations. I think your expansion of the Cain/Able model is an excellent idea.

    1. Thanks. I hope this shift in the model of human relationships can give comfort to those experiencing hardships.

  2. Incheol,

    This is your most impactful AU Blog article to me thus far. It’s as if the strings of gravity attached to your body binding you to this earth, like the captive elephant chained to the ground by its cruel master, have been cut, resulting in a new-found freedom to move about, unencumbered. Perhaps you will experience a new-found liberation akin to that like Superman, flying around like a bird or a plane, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Congrats on the courage to be vulnerable and honest with your readers.

    1. I decided to be frank because I realized there are so many who have experienced similar symptoms as mine. Indeed, there are plenty of them around me.

  3. I welcome your honest sharing as an elder second generation. I suppose the phrase that caught my attention is that many second generation see this path as an experiment. There are good experiments and bad experiments depending on your perspective. From my perspective, blessed children see it as a good experiment when they themselves are happy in their own skins and have a clear purpose and talent that they can express. On the other hand, if they are unhappy for various reasons they tend to see this as an experiment at their expense.

    I cannot deny that there is residual trauma due to failed, unhappy relationships that occurs through the generations. We see patterns unfolding at least through three generations. I am not sure that the Cain/Abel model fits best with true family values education. The other point for me is that we forget that God has also more intense trauma due to failures in human history and is suffering more than human beings. Of course I cannot tell someone who is suffering to think about Heavenly Parent’s suffering heart unless they themselves feel to do so.

    Divine Principle can be explained better with focus on better paradigms of creating successful relationships in the family, society, etc. We need a true mother’s love to bring conflicting children together before the manifestation of violence as in the Cain/Abel relationship and there was the wisdom of their mother Rebecca that enabled Jacob to do the right thing even though it looked like the wrong thing at the time.

    1. It used to be said that history is a record of the winners. Yes, I’m sure the providence will be recorded with those winners even if only a single winner remains. But, I hope the winner never forgets that there had been lots of losers who one day really wished to win over the experiment. That’s all I want from this experiment.

  4. Incheol,

    Thank you for your honest sharing. When I hear such testimony, like from Charles, I feel saddened at the experience of second generation growing up in our church. We first generation have transferred our restorational burdens onto you loaded with expectations and guilt. I believe this has been a mistake on our part, and for that I am sorry. You came into existence for something more than this. Something not restorational at all, but a greater freedom to move with God directly, beyond restoration, in your personal lives.

    Cain and Abel, even Jacob and Esau, imply a restorational paradigm. This was the first generation’s task. Laying a foundation to receive the Messiah and change lineage. This does not apply to the second generation, or even the first generation any longer. Satan was subjugated in 1999 and Father declared the end of restoration in 2004. Moreover Foundation Day represents completion of the messianic mission. In other words, the era where the Cain-Abel paradigm applied is in the past. It does not apply any longer. You don’t need to have, or to be for others, an Abel (or Jacob) figure in order to come before God.

    We pray in our own names, signifying that each person can come before God directly just as they are. My experience of this has been to feel in my bones that God accepts me unconditionally just as I am now, not for who I may become or what I may do in the future. For me this direct personal relationship with God is the basis of healing. I wish you well on your journey.

    1. Thank you for your consolation. It’s good to hear from you that the Cain-Abel model is no longer mandatory because of such victory. Inheritance is natural not only of the mission but also the consequential effect, because those descendants learn by first mimicking what their predecessors were doing. Now it’s my turn. I believe I’ve built up a model on my own along with my wife, which is full of endeavors as trial and error. Hopefully my children can learn more from such struggle. One thing is now vivid for them: they really try to stand independently in society.

    2. I opine that while there are four categories of fallen natures, there are myriads of fallen natures. Natures such as Selfishness, Arrogance, Jealousy, Hatred, etc., are fallen. The Principle of Cain and Abel serves the purpose of uprooting these natures.

  5. Dear Incheol,

    Thank you for your deep heart and really novel exposition! It has been said that theology is autobiography, and you are taking on the Augustinian “Confessions” tradition, which is honest and wonderful. I hope my comments are helpful.

    In a fundamental respect, the Cain-Abel and Esau-Jacob stories are the same model. The difference is that C-A failed, and E-J succeeded. Jacob’s course becomes “the model course” from the viewpoint of attaining success, but they both represent the “unblessed elder sibling — blessed younger sibling” problem.

    What’s interesting is that Exposition of the Divine Principle in the C-A account focuses entirely on the responsibility of the firstborn, and it is the story of a failure. On the other hand, the E-J account focuses entirely on the responsibility of the second born, and it is a story of success (except for Jacob declining Esau’s invitation in Gen 33:12-17).

    Also Exposition does not bring out the role of the mother (Eve’s implicit failure, Rebekah’s success). That, and the other items you mention in Jacob’s course (strategic retreat, subjugation of the angel) are great lessons.

    But I believe that the ultimate lesson of Jacob’s course is that he, on the foundation of the conditions that he had set, offered himself, his family, his household, and his possessions to his wrathful brother who had an army prepared to slaughter them all. That’s a tough one for us all to emulate, no matter what generation. And, ultimately, it’s the Principle of Creation… going to the zero point at the cost of one’s life. That’s the model for all generations, even in Cheon Il Guk.

    Thank you again for your article.

    1. Thank you for cheering me up by matching this article as one of theological trial.

      Your quotation from Gen 33:12-17 is interesting. I think Jacob declining Esau’s invitation could be another strategy: to slow down the pace. If a relationship develops too fast, one can create more time by declining it. If Jacob’s not ready for reunion, he doesn’t need to be obliged to rush the encounter. It’s up to Jacob whether to stall there, retreat again or advance forward.

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