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Anger

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The Cause of Anger ( 1-7)

Anger is caused by a moral evaluation in which you say of something: that’s wrong. Anger says: “that displeases me.” We experience anger when we say of something: “I am against that. That’s wrong, and I am displeased by it.” So anger is moral in this sense, anger always makes a value judgment.
Now, if anger comes from a value judgment, if anger is caused by a moral evaluation of something you perceive as wrong, then of course your anger will be shaped by your desires and beliefs. Every time you get angry, you make your desires and beliefs explicit. Your anger broadcasts: “These are the things I believe and care about!” Let’s see how this plays out in our passage.
Read 3-5. Cain’s offering was rejected whilst Abel’s was accepted. Why? Well, the text hints at it (“some of the fruits of the soil…fat portions from the firstborn”; Abel was offering his best but Cain was simply offering what was near to hand) but we’re told explicitly in 4 that Abel made his offering with faith. Presumably Cain made his offering from unbelief, being motivated not by love for God but perhaps by love for self. It’s hard to know exactly what was motivating Cain but the traditional interpretation is envy, fuelled by pride: I think Cain wanted to be the better worshipper; he wanted to be commended more than Abel. So, when his offering was rejected, when he didn't get what he desired, or thought he needed—Cain then made a moral evaluation. Cain made a value judgment of the situation and said: “this is wrong. I am displeased by this.” Of course, the unstated idea behind Cain’s anger must be something like this: “God has got it wrong; God is being random, capricious, cruel, and unfair. I’ve tried to worship God but look at how He has responded.” So Cain becomes very angry, because anger is caused by a moral evaluation in which you say of something: that’s wrong.
Anchor Man—Jack Black is angry because what he desires has been taken away. His anger was caused by a moral evaluation in which he said of Ron Burgundy’s behaviour: that’s wrong.
But God’s response to Cain’s anger is really amazing—take a look at verse 6 (read). God is counselling Cain, He is actually providing Cain with an opportunity to repent. He’s saying to Cain: “look into your heart. Identify your motives; why you did what you did.” He encourages Cain: if you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if not, then sin—like a crouching predator—is waiting to attack you.
In , sin had to come to humanity from the outside, in the form of the serpent. But now here, in life outside the garden, God warns Cain: sin has become an internal enemy. The poison has entered the bloodstream, as it were, and you have to be absolutely vigilant because sin is like a powerful predator just crouching in the bush waiting to pounce on you. When we reject God, we place ourselves in the vicinity of sin and—like a crouching beast about to attack—it will dominate us.
So Cain is angry because he makes a moral evaluation in which he says: “that’s wrong; I am displeased.” He makes that particular moral judgment because of his beliefs and desires for preeminence. And before we get too judgmental on Cain, it will be worth exploring whether we ever make similar moral evaluations! Perhaps in traffic, we are making evaluations about how others a driving; at work, about how others are working, etc. In order to understand and deal with our anger, we need to recognise when we become angry and why we become angry.
So can you do that? What, typically, are the situations or relationships in which you find yourself getting angry? [Pause for reflection: parenting, work, commuting etc] NB: those things are the occasion for your anger not the cause—remember, the cause of our anger is a negative moral evaluation based on your beliefs and desires. Your anger reveals the things you believe to be true and right; it reveals the things you desire and care about. Follow your anger—and you will see that it reveals your heart. Your anger is a window into your heart. So…what does your anger say about you? What does your anger say you love? What does your anger say you care about? What does your anger say you believe? What values, desires and beliefs does your anger broadcast?

The Consequence of Anger ( 8-14)

Anger destroys our relationships with people (read 8).

Anger destroys our relationships (read 8).

In his anger, Cain lures Abel out into the field where he murders him—anger destroys relationships. Instead of caring for his brother, Cain kills his brother. Anger, in other words, has destructive social dynamics. Perhaps we can feel superior to Cain because we have not killed anyone, but our anger is also destructive. Our anger damages and weakens relationships. Almost all of us have been in relationships negatively affected by anger. We live in a culture of anger—take a look at our public discourse, social media, or politics. And the results of this anger are seen everywhere, but particularly in weakened and decaying relationships.
In what way does your anger damage your relationships? How does your anger hurt your friendships? How does your anger impair your relationship with a spouse or child? How does your anger harm your relationship with your colleagues?
Imagine a beautiful wooden table. The table represents your relationship with someone. Now imagine banging in a nail. Doing it once won’t destroy the table, and neither will doing it twice. In fact, you may even get away with banging in 10 or 15 or even 20 nails—but what you are definitely doing, one nail at a time, is destroying that table. Some of us are destroying our relationships, one nail at a time. And perhaps today God would have you identify where you are doing that—and have you start repairing that table.

Anger destroys our relationship with God ( 9-14).

Cain is completely impenitent in this passage, replying sarcastically in verse 9: “Should I shepherd the Shepherd?” Yet even as Cain confronts God, God judges Cain—cursing Cain, and removing Cain from His presence. Cain is banished, he becomes a restless wanderer in a land called Nod (which means restless wandering). God judges our sinful anger; because of our sinful anger we are banished from His presence; excluded from being with Him.
Here’s one way to think about it: our sinful anger merits God’s righteous anger. Our anger merits His displeasure. So we find ourselves under His judgment—yet I wonder how many of us recognise God’s essential righteousness is judging our sinful anger. Jesus says that our anger makes us liable to God’s judgment.
Why is it so serious? Why does God demonstrate such clear condemnation of anger? I think it’s because, ultimately, the sinfully angry heart says: “my will be done!” It rejects God as the rightful ruler, and establishes myself in the place of God. But we have a really tough time accepting God’s judgment—Cain responds badly to God’s judgment (read v 13-14). He’s essentially saying: “This is unfair! My punishment is out of proportion, God you are being unjust!” Remarkably, Cain victimises himself!
Sadly, those that struggle with anger habitually often demonstrate a similar response—a lack of repentance, demonstrated by protesting that the punishment outweighs their crime.
Horae Homileticae Vol. 1: Genesis to Leviticus Discourse 9: The Death of Abel (Gen. 4:8–10)

let not this be wondered at: It is the effect of sin to sear the conscience, and to harden the heart: and the more heinous our transgressions are, the more shall we be disposed to criminate the authority that calls us into judgment for them. Even in hell itself this disposition is exercised, yea, it rages with uncontrolled and incessant fury

Angry at God? God wants you to identify and understand your anger. Stop holding it in your heart—rather, deal with it.
Angry people destroy their relationships—both with others and with God. When they get rightfully punished, they complain about their punishment. And they get angrier. Perhaps that describes you. Perhaps your anger is slowly destroying the different relationships in your life. Yet, even as you experience the negative, destructive consequences of your anger, you only become angrier.
Angry spouses: tend to blame, rationalise, lie, minimise, or deny. Tragically, this lack of repentance only escalates the destruction.
Anger has destructive consequences.

The Cure for Anger ( 15-16)

What is the cure for anger? This passage doesn't spell it all out in detail but God leaves us with hope—because of the mark of Cain. What was the mark of Cain? Well, there have been all sorts of ridiculous interpretations over the years but clearly in the context of this story the mark of Cain is a mark of divine protection (read v 15b). In other words, this is not a mark of judgment but of mercy. The mark is given lest vengeance and retaliation get out of hand. Though God curses Cain, he does not forsake him. Though God judges Cain, he dos not abandon him; rather, God places Cain under a protective shield. God shows mercy. God shows mercy to sinfully angry people: This is good news!
For though Cain, like us, deserves the full and just judgment of God…God shows grace. If you’re reading the Old Testament you’re wondering how God could show such mercy without neglecting justice. How could God truly listen to Abel’s cry and show such mercy to Cain? Well, the biblical answer of course is that God can be both just in punishing sin, and the justifier of those who believe in the sin-bearer. Because of Jesus, God is both just and the justifier.
Jesus never got sinfully angry because he never made moral evaluations from selfish desires or false beliefs. When Jesus did get angry, it was for the right reasons, in the right way. Jesus could be good and angry, because He truly desired to live for God. He was the righteous one who, like Abel, lived by faith. We are like Cain, who because of selfish desires, get angry for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. Our anger damages relationships, with both people and God.
Jesus wasn't completely like Abel, he was better than Abel. Instead of offering livestock Jesus offered Himself. The righteous one offered up His own life in the place of the unrighteous: Jesus took God’s righteous judgment for our unrighteous anger. And while Abel’s blood called out for vengeance, Jesus’ blood speaks a better word—assuring us of forgiveness.
So the cure for anger requires mercy from God; mercy from God and forgiveness for us. Because of Jesus, God forgives us of our sinful anger. But more than this, when we deal with our anger—really deal with it—we have a wonderful opportunity to change and grow. Because as you unpack your anger, as you seek to understand it, you will discover that, to quote David Powlison, “it is the royal road into the dark disorder of the human heart.” You will discover who you really are—what you believe, what you desire, what you fear and crave and idolise.
So we pray: “Forgive me for getting angry sinfully because of selfish desires. But help me to get angry righteously, because of issues of justice.” Righteous anger is the wise response to genuine evils—and we need God to not only forgive us our sinful anger but also empower our righteous anger.
So—understand the causes of your anger: the particular cluster of false beliefs and inordinate desires that drive your anger. Deal with the consequences of your anger: get out of denial and blameshifting. And, in the mercy of God, find a cure for your anger. Turn to him in repentance and faith—His mercies are generous and well-suited to our needs.
How will He do that? I think it’s as we look at Christ. When we look at Jesus, we see a Lamb—a Lamb that was slain for our sins. We see Him purchasing our forgiveness. But when we look at Jesus, we also see a Lion—a powerful Lion roaring against evil. We see Him fighting for His people, fighting for the welfare of others, and we ask Him to teach us His ways. So look to Jesus; see Him as the Lamb who forgives your anger, and see Him as the Lion who transforms your anger.
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