Road rage. Gun violence. Mass shootings. Political angst and divisions. Racial tensions. A longing for change! Ours is a volatile and angry culture. We are angry! So how do we respond?
The story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament book of Genesis, chapter 4, is about sibling rivalry, jealousy, and out of control emotions. It is appropriate because it helps us unpack the anger and rage so many struggle with in our culture.
Read the story. Both are God conscious. Both worship God. Cain, as a farmer offers the fruit of his labors. Abel, as a shepherd offers up the life one one of his lambs. Many see this as a subtle pointing to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” At the same time it might also be an archetypical story illustrating our errant (sinful) human foibles—how we deal with conflict in interpersonal relationships—with God and each other.
God accepts Abel’s offering. Cain’s is rejected. Rather than questioning what he could do differently Cain gets very angry. He blames Abel for his rejection. He reacts with jealousy and bitterness. Then Cain plots and murders Abel. When God questions him, Cain claims ignorance of what happened to Abel. The story is very relevant for us today. It has both Law and Gospel in it.
God initiates a conversation with Cain, extending grace and hope to him. “Stop and think about why you are angry! If you do the right thing you’ll have no reason to be so upset.” God then draws a word picture for Cain. “Sin is crouching at your door—like a tiger ready to pounce—it desires to control you but you must master it.”
Maybe God is saying, “stop and think!” Check your motives! Listen to your conscience! Dealing with our emotions can as dangerous as crossing a busy street. We should “stop, look and listen” and proceed with caution.
We do not have to react like victims that blame and attack others. Having strong feelings and emotional reactions is one thing. Letting them control us is another. Giving in to strong feelings, in this context, is to be controlled by sin. Giving in to that sin causes harm and destruction. It isolates us. It separates us from God and others. Yet God intervenes. God offers us a better way of dealing with raw emotions. We can accept God’s grace and forgiveness. We can ask God to empower us to do good instead of evil.
Jesus and the cross are the New Testament backdrop for this story. God not only offers us forgiveness through Jesus, He continues to give us the indwelling Holy Spirit—the God life within us—strengthening us to turn from sin toward God. God’s promise and grace implied in this story give us the ability to control our “out of control emotions” and do the right thing. Don’t give in to evil! Overcome evil with good!