Anger is part of our nature. It is the right response to threats and injustice. And even according to the Bible there is no sin inherent in it. It is perfectly fine to “be angry, but sin not.” But for the other ninety-nine percent of the time, anger and the results thereof are causing most of the ills and woes of all mankind.
The first instance recorded in Scripture of someone dealing with anger and it’s many other siblings comes early on in the book of Genesis. Again, this scene in scripture is so iconic in our culture that it is hard to find someone who hasn’t heard something about how “Cain slew Abel.”
I’ve heard it presented, in good American fashion, as a contest between the two brothers. Who can worship God the best? But is that really what happened?
Genesis 4:3 says, “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.” No contest here. And in fact, it appears that Cain is the one who spontaneously decides to offer an offering to God on his own, without any external suggestion of such. Sounds like pure worship, so far. So can you give Cain the credit that he originally intended to bring an offering in worship to God? Could it be that he really loved God? I believe he really did love God, and that is precisely what makes what he did later so much the worse.
Cain could have been known as the first worship leader in history, if it weren’t for what happened next. “But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast (Genesis 4:4,5).
And so we get to the question; “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:6,7).” This is quite a dilemma. Cain has been outshined by his little brother, and misunderstands the meaning of God’s favor towards Abel’s offering. I believe the pain of Cain is misunderstood love. He felt rejected personally when God preferred his brother’s offering over his own.
I think I can understand Cain and his struggle. It was his idea to bring offerings in the first place. It was his sweat and toil that brought forth the fruits he offered, and so they were a wonderful offering. And that is just the point. They were a wonderful offering, but not the favored offering. Was God rejecting Cain or his offering, or his intention of worship? Not at all.
Of course, you, being the theologically astute person that you are, know exactly why Abel’s offering had to be preferred, right? All through the early Genesis story there are clues to this. In fact there are many who see the whole gospel in the book of Genesis. The offerings that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God were to be preferred. The law stated that “the life is in the blood” of the animals that were sacrificed, and the blood was to be poured out, used to cleanse and make holy the articles of worship and those who would worship God in the time of the tabernacle and the temples. Abel’s offering was a prophetic symbol and act pointing to Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.
So we see that Cain was angry, and responded with a downcast look. This is what we call depression, which is defined as anger turned inward. Cain gets one more chance to see what’s going on and to change his intent towards his brother.
God even says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Cain has a chance to reject rejection and turn to God for help.
I have been in this same situation a thousand times in my life and followed the same path as Cain. I may not have killed anyone, but the bitterness and self- rejection and other poisons I have allowed in my life show me that I need to respond in a new way to the challenges I face. We all have another chance today to respond to our misunderstood love, our mistaken acceptance of rejection, and listen to the voice of the Father. His words are words of love, affirmation, forgiveness, acceptance and restoration.
But we all know what Cain chose to do. He murdered his brother and started a bloody trend that continues to this day all over the globe. So when God asks the next question, “What have you done?”, Cain callously responds with another question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain has become so hard hearted that he can lie directly to God and think nothing of it. God then hears Abel’s blood crying from the ground, pronounces a curse upon Cain, and sends him away. But even in this God is merciful to Cain, because He puts a mark on Cain that keeps others from killing him.
I see a parallel between Cain and the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. Both of them had a great situation that they did not see because of a blindness of heart. Cain had acceptance from God, but was unable to receive because of perceived rejection, and the elder brother had his father’s love and provision but was offended because of his judgment towards his brother.
So I’ll ask this question: Is there some blessing in your life that you are not able to see because of an offense or judgment toward someone else? May God help us to see these things before we choose the path of Cain.