The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? 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 spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
I think it's funny that God sometimes has to ask multiple questions at one time. It's as if he knows one question isn't going to be enough to show people what he wants them to see. He recognizes that humans can be a little slow on the uptake. I personally appreciate that about him.
Before we look into this passage, it's important to know what took place immediately before these verses. Cain and Abel are born at the beginning of Genesis 4, and all we know about them is that Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer. When it comes time for them to bring an offering before God, Abel brings the firstborn of his sheep and Cain brings some of the fruit of his land. What we know is that God has favor on Abel's offering but not on Cain's. What we don't know is what was wrong with Cain's offering.
I think that's somewhat of a gap in this story. We know from Hebrews 11:4 that "by faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain." Also, 1 John 3:12 says, "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one..." So yeah, Cain might not have been the best guy in the world, but I wish I knew what he did wrong that caused God to view his sacrifice unfavorably.
Maybe it's because I don't know all the details, but I have to say that I initially have a lot of sympathy for Cain. I mean, put yourself in his shoes. There's only four people on earth, and of those four people you're the only one who isn't viewed favorably by God. Yes, Adam and Eve got kicked out of the garden, but they knew what it was like to have a perfect relationship with God, so I have to think that they're relationship with him after the garden (while not nearly as intimate as before) is still healthy. I could be wrong, but that's just what I picture.
Meantime, Cain is stuck comparing himself to his brother (the only person on earth he can compare himself to by the way) and he doesn't compare well. He doesn't live up to the standard set by his brother. I have five brothers, so I'm familiar with what it can be like to compare yourself to siblings. However, I can't imagine how I would feel if we were all living back then and my brothers all offered sacrifices that were accepted by God and mine was the one he had no regard for. Actually, I know exactly how I would feel. I'd be angry.
What sticks out to me about this passage is that God knew Cain was angry, and he didn't tell him not to be angry. The passage doesn't say, "Why are you angry? Stop being angry." Instead, God's question regarding Cain's anger is followed by a warning, not a command. He says something closer to, "Hey, I get that you're angry, but don't let sin have any power over you." God tells him a simple truth: don't let your anger control your actions, and I think that's what God is trying to teach us as well. He's not trying to tell us that anger is always bad. Rather, it's the choices we make when we're angry that we need to be careful of.
God is more concerned about our actions amidst our anger than the anger itself.
But I think there's another truth here. What if it's OK to be angry at God? So often, I feel like if I don't approach God with complete reverence and respect then something is wrong with me. No matter how I truly feel inside, it's like I have to use a nice and appropriate tone with God. However, I think I'm doing it wrong. I think God would rather me be angry than fake. I'm not saying we should yell and cuss at God, but also, I've done that before and I don't think it's the worst sin I've ever committed. I think God would rather hear my honest emotions as opposed to me putting on a face for him. Being angry wasn't Cain's problem. Killing his brother was. But those are two entirely different things. Again, it was the action amidst the anger, not the anger itself, that caused Cain's demise.
I think there was a way Cain could have avoided all of his troubles. What if he had simply been honest with God? Imagine if Cain had said, "Yeah God, I am angry. You accepted Abel's offering but not mine, and to tell you the truth that pissed me of a little and I don't know what to do about it." I don't know what God would have said back to that, but I think there's a good chance things could've turned out differently.
It's better to show God our true emotions than to try to hide them behind false reverence.
I think God values honesty over ceremony. Instead of going through the motions to present ourselves as "appropriate" or "proper" before God, maybe we should just tell it like it is. I bet he can handle anything we have to tell him. Even if we're angry.