April 25, 2010

The Questioning God

#3—Why are you angry?

 

Opening:

ILL: B.R. Holt from Caldwell, Idaho, tells this story about fighting rush-hour traffic from suburban Maryland into Washington D.C.

          One morning, a young lady darted her compact car from a side street into the stream of traffic immediately in front of a driver just a few car lengths ahead of me, forcing him to brake sharply. He avoided hitting her by inches and was obviously furious. Within seconds, traffic stopped at a red light, and I watched him pull up behind the offender, leap from his car, and stride angrily toward hers. Clearly, he intended to give her a royal bawling out.

          Seeing him coming, the very attractive young lady jumped from her car and ran to meet him—a big smile on her face! Before he could say one word or know what was happening, she threw her arms around him, hugged him tightly, and planted a passionate kiss on his lips! Then she was back in her car and driving away, leaving him standing in the middle of the street speechless and looking confused and embarrassed–but no longer angry!

Why are you angry?  He couldn’t remember. 

          Why are you angry?  That’s the question God asked Cain, and we’re going to let him ask us today.  It’s a question designed to help us face what’s really happening inside us.

Introduction:

          “Why are you angry?”  That is the question that God asks in the story we’ll read; and that is the question we’ll let God ask us today.  This is part three of the “The Questioning God”; we’re looking at questions that God asked people in the Bible, and we’re letting God ask them of us.  “Why are you angry?”

ILL: Here is a story about my oldest son, Andy, who is turning 28 today!  Happy birthday, Andy! 

          Many years ago, I was playing with my kids in the family room one evening.  Andy was about 12 and he was playing kind of rough with his little sister Amy who was about 9.  I told him to be careful with his sister; he ignored me.  I told him he was being too rough; he ignored me.  I told him he was going to hurt his sister; he ignored me…and he hurt his sister.  Amy started crying and I went ballistic.  I came out of my chair and Andy ran for his room with me in hot pursuit.  In his room I got in his face and started yelling, “Why don’t you listen when I told you to be careful?  Blah-ba-blah-ba-blah!”  This is not a rational conversation—I’m red-faced and yelling.

          When I came up for breath, Andy said, “Dad, you have an anger problem.” 

          It stopped me cold!  I not only didn’t know what to say; I knew he was right.  I did have an anger problem.  I apologized to Andy, and then set on the edge of the bed with my head between my hands and thought, “My 12-year old son is more mature than I am.  He’s right.  I have an anger problem.”

Here’s the deal.  We all have an anger problem.  All of us get angry, and when we do, sin is not far behind.  So we’ve got an anger problem, and a God who loves us enough to ask us, “Why are you angry?” to help us get to the bottom of the problem. 

          We’re going to read a story in the Bible about someone with an anger problem, and God asked him, “Why are you angry?”

Genesis 4:1-7 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 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.”

Let’s take a closer look at the story, and ask a few questions.

 

1. Some questions about the story:

          The story starts in verse two introducing two brothers with two different professions.  Abel was a shepherd; he kept flocks.  Cain was a farmer; he worked the soil.  One day, each decided to bring an offering to the Lord.  Most likely, this was an offering designed to express their gratitude to God; it was thanksgiving for a good crop or a healthy flock.  Naturally, they each brought an offering from their own livelihood.  So Cain the farmer brought some produce, and Abel the shepherd brought livestock. 

Genesis 4:4-5 The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

Notice that it wasn’t just each man’s offering that the Lord did or did not look upon with favor; it was the man too.  God looked with favor on Abel and his offering; He did not with Cain and his offering.  Why?  Why did God accept one and not the other?

 

  • Why did God not accept Cain and his offering?

We don’t know for sure.  The text doesn’t say.  There are hints in the text, and comments in other parts of the Bible that can help us make an educated guess.

I don’t think that God rejected Cain and his offering because it was fruits and veggies, and not animal sacrifice.  In fact, my wife, who is vegan, would say that God prefers fruits and veggies to meat, and I should too!  Each man was offering from his own livelihood, as he should.  The farmer offered fruits and veggies; the shepherd offered meat.  All good.  There is nothing here to suggest that God had asked for a blood sacrifice; and plant-based offerings are acceptable in other passages—read Leviticus.  So the problem wasn’t that Cain offered produce and Abel offered a lamb.

Here is the best explanation for why God rejected Cain and his offering. It says:

Genesis 4:3-4 Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.

The NLT says that Abel brought “the best of the firstborn lambs.”  Cain brought some of his produce; Abel brought the best of his flock.  Some—the best.  It could be that Cain thought, “This is good enough,” while Abel gave his best.  If this is true, then Cain was going through religious motions, while Abel was really worshipping. 

          All through the Mosaic Law, which comes centuries later, God insists that any sacrifice that was given to Him be their best.  They were to offer their best lamb, not a blemished lamb. 

          In Malachi 1, God rebukes the Israelites for offering blemished sacrifices.  They were offering blind, injured, crippled or diseased animals to God—animals that wouldn’t bring any money at market—worthless animals.  “We need to give something to God?  Here, give Him this one; it’s worthless anyway.  It won’t bring a dime at market.”  God said that by doing this, they were showing contempt and disrespect toward Him. 

          Maybe that’s what was happening with Cain.  Maybe he had this same disrespectful attitude that withholds the best, and gives God leftovers.  Maybe he was just going through the motions but his heart wasn’t in it. If so, then here in the first recorded act of worship, we see both true heartfelt worship and going-through-the-motions religious duty.  God accepts the first and rejects the second.

Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

In this New Testament interpretation of the event, the author of Hebrews says that it was Abel’s faith that made his offering better, and by inference, Cain’s lack of faith caused his to be rejected.  Perhaps by offering his best, Abel was expressing his faith: he was trusting God to provide for him, and expressing his belief that God was worthy of his very best.   And perhaps by offering less than his best, Cain was expressing his lack of faith.  “I can’t afford to give God my best; I’ve got to keep that for myself.” 

ILL: I love the story of the lady who gave a check for $500 to her pastor and said, “I hope this will be acceptable.”  Without even looking at the check, the pastor said, “It is, if it’s your best; is it your best?”  The lady hesitated a moment and then took the check back and left.

She came back a couple days later with a check for $5,000.  She gave it to her pastor and asked, “Is this acceptable?”  And without looking at the check, her pastor asked, “Is it your best?”  She hesitated a little longer this time, then sighed and took the check back and left.

She came back a few days later with a check for $50,000.  She gave it to the pastor and said “Don’t ask!  This is my best!”

Are you giving God your best? Whatever we offer to God, we want it to be our best, whether we are giving God an offering, or our worship, or our service.  No blemished lambs—give God your best!  Here’s another question?

 

  • Why was Cain angry?

This is the question God asks Cain: Why are you angry?  This is a rhetorical question: God knew why Cain was angry; He wanted Cain to know why he was angry.  But Cain gives no answer.  Evidently, Cain didn’t bother to answer the question for God or himself, and the results are murder.  Since Cain didn’t answer the question, we’re left to wonder. Why was Cain angry? Put yourself in Cain’s shoes and try to imagine why he was angry. What do you think?

  • He was jealous.  God accepted his brother’s offering, but not his.
  • He was embarrassed.  You see this in little kids sometimes.
  • He was disappointed.
  • He felt rejected; less than his brother.
  • He felt it was unfair, that he was being mistreated.

Anger is usually a secondary emotion.  We feel angry because we feel something else: wronged, misunderstood, mistreated, embarrassed, disappointed, rejected, jealous.  But there is something else here we shouldn’t miss.  Cain felt angry because he did the wrong thing. 

Genesis 4:6-7 “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”

It is a weird thing about us human beings.  We do the wrong thing, and when someone points it out to us or when it backfires in our faces, we get angry.  We don’t get contrite, or repentant.  We get angry and defensive.  That’s what happens here.  Cain does something wrong and when it bites him, he becomes angry.

1 John 3:12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

The actions John is talking about here must be this offering. Abel’s actions were righteous; Cain’s actions were evil.  Abel did “what is right”; Cain didn’t.  And Cain got angry.  Not humbled, not sorry, not repentant—but angry!  Does anyone else find this weird?  It is typically human!  I do this!

ILL: Awhile back, I said some things that were not particularly sensitive and loving to my one of my daughters.  She said nothing in return, but later, Laina told me that I had made her cry and really hurt her feelings.  My response to Laina?  I got angry.  “What is wrong with you women?  You’re so touchy!”

          Who was at fault?  Me.  Who got angry?  Me. 

It is clear in the story that Cain did not do right, which is why God rejected his offering.  But rather than addressing his own wrong-doing, Cain was angry with God and his brother, and then killed his brother out of jealousy and anger.  By asking the question, “Why are you angry?” God asked Cain to look in his own heart and face the roots of his anger.  He should not have been angry with God or Abel, but with himself.  The real issue was his own failure; God’s question was to help him face that.

          One more question about the story:

 

  • What was God’s warning to Cain?

Genesis 4:7 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.”

Cain is angry and God gives him this warning.  Do the right thing and you’ll be accepted.  But if you don’t do the right thing, sin is crouching at your door.  In Hebrew, this is the word for an animal crouching for the kill, ready to pounce and devour you!

ILL: How many of you have ever seen cats hunt?  We have two cats, and they are terrific mousers.  I know because they leave me presents most days—they leave the mouse guts at the bottom of the steps into the garage.  It’s their way of saying, “See what a good cat I am!”  I watch them hunt in the field by our house.  They sit perfectly still for the longest time, and then they see movement—a mouse in the grass.  Slowly, they move to crouching position—lower, lower, lower—until they are ready to POUNCE!  Then I get mouse guts on the steps.

That’s the picture.  Sin crouches, ready to pounce and devour us.  Peter used the same picture talking about the devil.

1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

He’s on the prowl, looking for someone to devour.  We are in a battle for our souls. 

          Cain does the wrong thing and his offering is rejected, and he gets angry, and God says, “Sin is crouching at the door, and it wants to have you.”  Here’s the warning.  When we get angry, sin is not far away!  When we get angry, sin is crouching at the door, and if we’re not careful, we’re mouse-guts!  When I get angry, it’s easy to sin: I say things I shouldn’t say, and I do things I shouldn’t do.  The Greeks defined anger as a “short madness”.  Perhaps this is why Paul wrote:

Ephesians 4:26-27 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Paul quotes from Psalm 4:4 “In your anger do not sin.”  It’s possible to be angry and not sin.  Anger itself is not a sin; it’s what you do with your anger that can be a sin.  There is such a thing as righteous anger—my anger isn’t usually very righteous—it’s usually selfish.  But there is righteous anger; God’s anger is always righteous; sometimes ours may be.  It’s possible to be angry and not sin.  BUT—and this is a Big BUT—my Big BUT—most of the time, when we are angry, sin is not far behind!  Sin crouches at the door.  So Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  In other words, deal with your anger quickly and don’t let it simmer.  Hanging on to your anger gives “the devil a foothold.”  Who wants to give the devil a foothold?  Remember, this is our enemy who is prowling around looking for someone to devour.  You don’t want to give him any room to operate in your life.

ILL: I backpack in Glacier National Park, with the Grizzly bears.  We’ve never seen one in the backcountry, but you hear stories.  One of the rules in Glacier is that you eat in an area separate from where you pitch your tents, and you are not supposed to take food into your tents.  Why?  You don’t want the smells to attract the bears to your tent.

          We heard this story about a backpacker in Glacier.  This guy caught some fish in the evening, and wanted to keep them for breakfast.  He was afraid that if he left them in the lake, the bears would find them and eat them.  So—you know what’s coming—he took them into his tent for the night.  Well, the bears found the fish and ate them—and him too!  You don’t want to invite the bears into your tent!

And you don’t want to invite the devil into your life!  But when you hang onto anger, you are inviting him into the tent.  You are giving him a foothold, room to operate, in your life.  Why?  Because when you are angry, sin is not far behind.

Here are two ways of saying the same thing:

  • When you are angry, sin is crouching at the door.
  • When you are angry, you give the devil a foothold.

God is warning Cain: “Watch out!  Your anger is opening the door for sin.  Your anger can lead to something much worse.”  And it did.  In his anger, Cain killed his brother, and lost everything.  This is a warning worth taking to heart. 

 

2. The question: why are you angry?

          Here is the question God is asking us today: why are you angry?  God asked Cain this question because He wanted Cain to face and deal with the roots of his own anger, and because He knew that if Cain failed to do this, the results could be murderous.  God asks you the same question for the same reasons.  Why are you angry?  Honestly answering that question can set you free; failing to answer it can be disastrous. 

When I get angry, I need to let God ask me this question, and honestly face the roots of my anger.  Why am I angry?  Earlier, I said that anger is a secondary emotion.  We feel angry because we feel disappointed, hurt, frustrated, jealous, tired.  Most of the time, it has to do with perceived injustices done to me.  Someone didn’t treat me right; “they done me wrong”. 

But if I’m willing to look deeper, often my anger towards others is a way of deflecting blame away from myself and avoiding my own issues.  Often when I’m angry, I’m the one who is wrong, and my anger is merely the cover for my embarrassment or frustration with myself or disappointment.

The roots of our anger can be complex. 

ILL: Just a few weeks ago, I received an email that created a visceral reaction in me—it triggered a bunch of competing emotions.  I went for a run a little later, and had to stop and walk for a moment because I was crying so hard.  I don’t cry often, and the depth of my emotion surprised me.  As I ran, I also ran through the gamut of emotions. I was sad, frustrated, shocked, disappointed, surprised, hurt—and very angry.  And sin was crouching at the door.  I thought of all kinds of nasty, vengeful things to say and do in return. 

But thankfully, I heard the question: “Why are you angry?”  And I spent some time that day and the next praying and thinking about that.  I determined not to do anything until I had answered the question and understood what was happening inside me.  And as Jesus and I sorted through it, the reasons became clear, and with Jesus’ help, I dealt with them.  And it wasn’t one thing; it was several things.  It was complex.  But by taking time to answer the question before I did anything, I not only avoided sin, but I came up with the right thing to do, and did it.  And the situation turned out beautifully. 

God asked Cain, “Why are you angry?” to help him get to the roots of his anger, and so to make the right choices behaviorally.  Understanding his anger would help him avoid sin and do right.  God was asking Cain the question to help him, to save him.  The Questioning God comes to save us, not condemn us.

John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

God asks these questions for the same reason He sent Jesus—to save us. 

 

Prayer: Let God ask you the question: why are you angry?