What I Learned from God’s Words to Cain
Picking up where I left off in post #11:
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” (Gen. 4:6, NASB)
I learned something profound from these words to Cain: God wants to talk with me about my anger, and it is in my very best interest that I do talk to Him about it.
That said, in my experience I have found that whenever I am suddenly angry with another person and immediately react (usually it is someone close to me such as a family member), dialogue with God is almost impossible. At best, I might be able to muster up an inner, “Help me, God!” So, I have had to learn that, as soon as possible, I need to stop my reaction and get some space between me and the person who triggered my anger, so I can talk to God. (Of course, it is best to be slow to anger…)
I also have had to learn the importance of being brutally honest with God about the situation in hand, not hiding my real feelings about it from Him, and also being honest about any poor thoughts I might have about God Himself, such as why He lets such things happen, etc. (Cain was angry with both God and Abel.) I also do my best to try to look at all sides of the matter.
The ultimate purpose of talking to God is not to win my case, but as honestly as I can, to put it out on the table so I can step back, and try to see it objectively with His help. I have to determine if I have a right to be offended by what has happened. Is it a real offense or just my perception, or over-sensitivity, or pride or something else?
God was trying to get Cain to stop and think about his anger. He wanted Cain to reach a proper conclusion and act accordingly. I suspect God wanted Cain to ask Him for help in understanding why he was angry, but Cain didn’t want to talk with God, and he didn’t. Abel paid dearly for Cain’s unwillingness to talk to God, and so did Cain.
God had demonstrated to Adam and Eve, after the Fall, that because of their sin, a blood sacrifice was necessary. He had shed the blood of an animal and clothed them with its skin. Both Cain and Abel, no doubt, had been told about this while growing up. Abel, when he offered an animal sacrifice to God, was practicing what he most likely had learned from his parents about what God wanted. Cain, on the other hand, practiced something different. Cain took another way—he offered to God the fruit of his own labor on the cursed earth. God let Cain know He wasn’t happy with his offering, and this made Cain mad.
When I Am Angry
When I am angry, I first have to try and discover if I am the one violating God in some way. In light of His Word, just what is right and wrong in the situation? Is my anger justified? Does anything in the Bible show me that the cause is the other person’s sin, or, is it my sin?
Some things are easy to identify as being sin or a valid offense: a person stole from me, lied to me or about me, etc. But, what if someone appeared to snub me, used body language to send a message of disapproval, made a seemingly innocent joke about me, failed to do what I expected them to do, chuckled when something hurt me, etc.? It’s not so easy to clearly name what sin, if any, these kind of things are. I find that many anger-producing situations are complicated and not clear cut, so talking to God about them is an absolute necessity for me. I am happy to report that He has always helped me when I ask. He knows the Bible well :), and often brings to mind some verses that bring clarity.
This kind of stop-and-consider-before-God exercise usually ends in one of two ways:
1. When my-anger-evaluation bottle stops spinning, and I find it is pointing at me as the one at fault, I have to repent—to God and to the other party.
2. If it is pointing at the other party, and they have indeed sinned against me and appear to be oblivious to their sin or appear to be standing firm in it, believing they are right, I have to make a second evaluation, and set my course accordingly:
— If the person is an unbeliever, I typically lean in the direction of turning the other cheek, praying for them, and praying that God will use me to show them His love in a way they cannot understand, one that causes them to want to know Him. (This is different than “stuffing” it—as explained in post #11—different because I am making an active choice to bear the hurt of a lost soul for their sake, as Jesus did for me on the cross.)
—If the person is not an unbeliever, but is a fellow Christian, my path is different than this, as defined in God’s Word. First of all, I give it what I call the Proverbs 19:11 test which says it is a man’s glory to overlook a matter. If the matter in question is something small that I can choose to overlook, put away, and never think about again, I will take that path. However, if I find I am not capable of doing this, I have no choice but to take the path commanded by Jesus in Matthew 18:15 and go to talk to the person about the offense. This is not just for my sake, but for the other party’s sake as well.
As I said in post #11, this is not a way I like to take, naturally speaking; however, it has become the way that I have committed myself to follow when a fellow Christian, a member of God’s family, has offended or hurt me.
Interestingly, I have found over and over again that the minute I make the decision to obey these verses, my feeling of anger abates. That means the sun won’t be going down on my anger. Then, I follow through as soon as I can. (When I have failed to follow though—more often than I care to admit—God has been faithful to help me, by bringing the matter back around again, usually allowing worse circumstances to come into play and get my attention.) I have found that most of the time when I do follow through in a timely manner, and go to the other person and talk, seeking reconciliation, the problem is cleared up. If it isn’t, I move to step two of Matthew 18 and ask someone else to help me communicate with the person. Lastly, comes the third step which rarely has to be used.
In the future, I hope to write more about the three “steps” in Matthew 18 (and also the one step found in Matthew 5), including the importance of timely obedience and the fact that our obedience to the Matthew 18 and Matthew 5 passages is not subject to some kind of statute of limitations.
I may also write a little more about the anger evaluation step, because evaluating matters in the light of God’s Word can sometimes be very difficult. For example, if you are married to a stuffer (male or female) who habitually hurts you in passive ways, you may feel like you are losing your mind when you try to evaluate why you are angry.
One more thing I will write about for sure: why we don’t feel anger when we should. As a woman, I know a lot about this one.
For now, I will just state the main thing I have learned:
God wants any problem between me and another believer to be cleared up and removed. He wants this more than I do! Why? because sins between members of His family grieve Him, hinder answers to our prayers, give the devil a foothold in our lives, and frustrate the work of His Spirit on the earth.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-30, NIV)
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isa. 59:1-2, NIV)
I hope you will stop and think about this for a minute: The Bible says that where there is genuine unity and harmony, God commands His blessing of life forevermore (Psa. 133). Consider how things might be in Christian marriages, in the church, and in society, if Christians really practiced these verses and properly resolved anger that is caused by offenses, rather than railing, striking, or stuffing it. (The most common way taken by Christians, I believe, is stuffing it.) Maybe we would discover, as Christians, what it really means to be under God’s commanded blessing. Maybe we would see God’s blessing reaching multitudes of people and rescuing them into God’s family out of the flood of “cursing” that is covering the earth today.
If you are wondering why I didn’t write about forgiveness, I will get to this in another post. I purposely bypassed the typical “forgive and forget” prescription that is most-offered today by Christian teachers as the solution for anger. Why did I bypass it? It is not biblical, and it doesn’t work. Forgiveness is an absolute necessity, but it needs to be in accordance with God’s way of forgiveness as revealed in the Bible.