When God asks a question

The LORD said to Cain . . . “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? (Genesis 4:6) 

Throughout the Scriptures God asks questions for which he knows the answers. He uses these questions to move the listener towards change. As a friend of mine once shared,

A question stirs the conscience, but an accusation hardens the will (Ken Collier)

For Cain, as well as for us, the point is this: inherent in the why question is that Cain had a choice. God was stirring Cain’s conscience when he asked why he chose to respond with anger instead of obedience.

In our English language this is captured in the word responsible; a word we often use without considering its meaning.We are response able – able to choose the right response. I recognize that it often doesn’t feel this way. Self-pity and the ensuing emotions consume our thoughts and feelings; so much so that we believe them to be our only option.  God wishes to challenge our thinking and so he asks, “Why did you choose to respond in the way that you did?”

 Cain chose to feel sorry for himself; so do we. He was not the victim of his emotions or circumstances. Self-pity, while an enslaving habit, remains a choice.  Paul confirms this in the book of Romans: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16, NLT)

God’s question for Cain reveals this liberating truth: when you are embroiled in self-pity you don’t have to be. You choose to be.


Taken from Dead-End Desires: biblical strategies for defeating self-pity.

Available November 2012 through www.biblicalstrategies.com.

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The angry man’s belief system–part 3

When it comes to anger, the final belief that needs correcting is: You believe your desires are your rulers.

Cain was angry. And the more he thought about it, the angrier he got. He had been out done by his younger brother and it didn’t feel right at all. He had always been first in the family: his parents treating him as if he was something special. But when it came time to offer the sacrifices, God had accepted Abel’s not his. Cain was seething. From the inside out, he could feel the anger working its way on to his face and he didn’t care.

He had felt this emotion before, but it had never been this strong, and it was growing stronger. Somewhere in his sullenness he heard God’s voice: “Cain, why are you angry and why is your face showing it? If you do well, will you not be accepted?”

God paused.

Cain seethed.

Then God spoke again.  

“And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain understood the word desire. It gave him strength, and it justified his actions. He could feel the desire pulling him now . . . towards the field. He called for Abel, all the while knowing what he was going to do. Like a crouching lion, the desire sprung, and so did Cain. When it was over, Abel’s lifeless body lay before him on the ground. God was speaking again. And Cain ran . . .

The first murder in the Bible took place at the hands of an angry man. Remarkably, he had been given sound advice: rule over your desires. But the desires felt like they ruled over him, and the more he gave into them the stronger they became.

In the heat of the moment, anger is a very convincing leader. It tells us to stop our ears to sound counsel; because, they wouldn’t understand us anyway. With anger by our side we can justify both our sinful actions and our bad attitude. Anger promises us we won’t be left alone.  And when we’re ready to make a decision, anger crouches with us, telling us if it feels right it must be right. Afterwards, when we survey the damage that we’ve done; anger is gone, running like Cain through the night. And we have new companion: regret.

The key, God said, is to rule over your desires before they rule over you. Desires, like our thoughts, are habit forming. The more you feed them the stronger they become. Eventually, they feel stronger than your will to choose.

 We even use language that communicates this truth:

  • I felt like I was out of control (as if anger was ruling over us and we were simply obeying).
  • I was so angry I didn’t have a choice (as if anger left us no other options).
  • You just make me so angry (as if following our desires frees us from responsibility).

Paul captured it this way, “Do you not know that you are the slaves of whatever you choose to obey?” (Rom. 6:16 NLT)

In Ephesians 4:31, God told us to rule over our desires with slightly different words when he said,

 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:31-32).