When you see your child, grandchild, or another child who has an angry face, what do you normally ask? “What’s the matter?” “Why are you angry?” That’s what I would ask, too. But what is the motivation for such a question? Why should I even care when my child or another child is angry? Perhaps our motivation for the question is that we want the child to think about the source of the anger. We want the child to think before sinful action happens. We want the child to calm down and consider that the anger may be totally inappropriate. Inappropriate anger is when we assume someone has wronged us, but in fact no one has. Appropriate anger is when someone has wronged us or sinned against us. Unless we stop and identify the real source of our anger, we are likely to act out inappropriate anger in an inappropriate way. “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV)
Now that I’m an adult, I just need someone to ask me the question when I have an angry face. What a minute, that’s exactly what God does. Check this out in Genesis 4:3-7 (NIV): “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 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. 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.’”
Did you see that? Cain had his angry face on, and God stepped in and asked him the question. “Why are you angry?” So why does God care? What is His motivation for asking us about the source of our anger? My opinion is that He does care and wants to keep us from acting in sin. Remember that the emotion of anger is not a sin. The behavior of anger can become sin unless we do something good with it. My point here is that we must stop and answer the question before we act. We must identify the source of our anger. Sadly, Cain never answered God’s question. Instead, Cain acted out his anger by killing his younger brother Abel.
What if Cain had answered God’s question? What would he have said? What was the source of his anger? Here are a few guesses.
1. Cain could have been jealous. Cain could have answered God by saying, “God, I am jealous that Abel’s offering was better than mine.” The scripture in Genesis makes a distinction between Abel’s offering and Cain’s. Abel’s offering was from the fat portions of the firstborn of the flock. Abel offered the best cut of the firstborn. Cain offered only some fruits of the soil. It was not his best. So Cain was jealous. If Cain had stopped long enough to realize that the source of his anger was jealousy, then he would have realized that his anger was inappropriate. Proverbs 27:4 (NLT) teaches us this: “Anger is cruel, and wrath is like a flood, but who can survive the destructiveness of jealousy?” Jealousy is a sin, and it is destructive.
So if the source of my anger is jealousy, then my anger is inappropriate and sinful. I must repent and let go of the inappropriate anger.
2. Cain could have been ashamed of his behavior. Cain could have said, “God, I’m angry at myself for not presenting my best offering. I know how to present my best fruit, and I didn’t. Now I’m ashamed and angry.” John explains it this way: “We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was right.” (1 John 3:12 NLT) John’s explanation is that Cain’s behavior was evil. Cain knew the right way to present an offering to God but presented an offering that was unacceptable. Cain’s behavior was evil, and he was ashamed.
So if the source of my anger is shameful behavior, then my anger is inappropriate and sinful. I must repent and let go of the inappropriate anger.
3. Cain could have had his pride wounded. Cain could have said, “God, I’m angry because as the older brother I deserve your favor.” In the Psalms, we find this truth. “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” (Psalms 10:4 NIV) Cain’s offering did not receive God’s favor. He was jealous, ashamed, and too prideful to seek God again with the proper offering. In his pride, Cain did not seek God. However, God did seek Cain to give him another chance to present the proper offering. Cain never answered God. His pride was wounded.
So if the source of my anger is wounded pride, then my anger is inappropriate and sinful. I must repent and let go of the inappropriate anger.
God cares about the source of our anger. He does not want us to sin in our anger. Therefore, “we must not be like Cain,” as John instructs. We must stop and answer God’s question, “Why are you angry?” So what is your answer? Are you jealous? Are you ashamed? Has your pride been wounded? Repent of sin. Let go of inappropriate anger. If someone has sinned against you and your anger is appropriate, then we will look at how to deal with that in part 4 of this series. Next time, we will look at part 3: How Does God Handle His Anger?