In our series looking at the questions God asks us, we looked today at 5 questions in Genesis 4, dealing with the story of Cain and Abel. Here, we see how God asks questions of Cain to invite him to delve further into his emotions (anger, resentment, jealousy and hatred) and to lead him into repentance, and what happened when Cain failed to respond positively to these questions.
Why are you angry? (Gen 4:6)
God’s questions are not because He does not know us or needs the answer the way that we do when we ask questions. His questions invite us to look below the surface and deal honestly with our troublesome emotions. Cain’s anger was because he had not won God’s favour with his offering and his brother had. Asking why we feel these emotions is the first step to overcoming them; God invites us into honest conversation with Him. Unless we do this, emotions have the potential and the force to master us; like the psalmist, we must ask ourselves what is at the root of such emotions. (Ps 42:5,11; Ps 43:5)
Why is your face downcast? (Gen 4:6)
Our facial expressions and demeanour are often clues to our feelings and moods. Again, God’s question invites us into dialogue with Him, leading us to examine our hearts (Jer 17:9, Ps 139:23-24). Identifying the emotion is one thing; finding out what lies beneath it is the path to overcoming its power.
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? (Gen 4:7)
In this third question, God gets to the heart of the matter. If we do what is right, then God will accept us. He is not fickle. He is not capricious. He is not a God who is out to get us. God very gently here is pointing Cain to the sin in his own life; His question to Cain here is essentially asking him to reflect on what he has done and gives him the opportunity to turn away from sin. Cain wants to approach God in his own way, on his own terms, as we all do, but God makes it plain that there is only one way to approach Him: through the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22) and through His Son, Jesus. (John 14:6)
Many want to approach God as Cain did, bringing their own sacrifices, doing good works, doing what they think is the right thing, but the only thing God wants is for us to come to Him on His terms. Anything else opens the door to sin, and as God makes very plain in this conversation, once that door is open, we are at sin’s mercy. We can’t afford to let it have mastery of us; we must rule over it, and we do that as we do things God’s way.
Where is your brother Abel? (Gen 4:9)
Instead of listening to God and spending time working through these troublesome emotions, Cain responded angrily; his emotions ran away with him, resulting in murder. (Gen 4:8) With Abel out of the way, then he had no competition for God’s favour and God would have to make do with his sacrifice, because there wouldn’t be any other! Unless we learn to deal with our emotions and listen to the voice of conscience God has given us, the easier it is to justify our actions and to see things from an entirely egocentric point of view, where the only person in the world who really matters is me. God gave Cain the opportunity to confess his sin to God and to ask for forgiveness, but Cain’s response shows us just how far from God he has travelled. ‘“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”’ (Gen 4:9)
What have you done? (Gen 4:10)
God’s final question confronts Cain with the reality of the situation. Many of us like to design our own reality and pretend that situations are as we interpret them. God doesn’t give Cain the benefit of this luxury. There will always be consequences to our actions; in this case, Cain can no longer stay where he is, working the soil. He will no longer work and find that work profitable and enjoyable; instead, the ground ‘will no longer yield its crops for you.’ (Gen 4:12) He is condemned to a life of restless wandering; He must leave God’s presence. Even now, God’s mercy is seen, because He promises Cain that he will not be killed as punishment (Gen 4:15), but we see very plainly that there are consequences for our actions. He had been warned that if he did what was right, he would be accepted, but conversely, if he opened that door for sin as he had, then sin would have mastery and his life would never be the same again.