Avoiding Bitterness

“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

Unfortunately for Cain, the LORD did not have regard for his offering.   We can probably all appreciate to some extent how that must have felt. No one enjoys the feeling of not being good enough. No one likes to put sweat and tears into some effort only to come up short. We want to receive praise for our efforts and our accomplishments so that we can feel proud of what we have achieved. We want to feel good about ourselves. When things do not go our way, and our efforts come up short, it can be quite frustrating.

Of course, this is what happened with Cain:

“So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:5)

When we get really upset, it is written all across our faces. This was apparently the case with Cain, and his disappointment at falling short and being revealed as insufficient turned to anger inside him. Is this not a temptation that we all face? When we do not get what we want, or when we do our best and no one takes notice, or when those around us seem to tell us by our actions that we are not good enough, are we not tempted to become bitter? When someone else’s life seems to be falling into place while ours seems to be floundering, are we not tempted to become jealous?

In this context, God responds to Cain:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Discouragement, Cynicism, Anger, Bitterness, and Jealousy were no the only options Cain had in response to his personal failures and disappointments. And we all have personal failures and disappointments. When they arise, we can respond in a destructive way that hands the reins over to our negative feelings, or we can take the alternative that God offers. We can rise up in the strength God offers and be master over the sin. We can take the high road. We can resist the bitterness and instead start where we are and resolve to do our best moving forward.

“Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

Something to consider about Cain’s actions is that they certainly did not make his life better. Yes, he was angry. Yes, he may have been jealous of Abel. Maybe he thought that if he could not be happy, he was not going to allow Abel to be happy either. And maybe for a brief moment Cain felt some kind of personal power or satisfaction is lashing out and doing things his own way. But ultimately, the outcome was worse, not better, that what Cain could have expected if he had simply picked himself up and dedicated himself to bringing an acceptable offering to God in the future.

Some have said that my generation was never taught how to deal with disappointment. I think to some extent they may be right. And to some extent this is a problem that all generations face. Things will not go our way. We will be shown to be inadequate when we most want to feel sufficient. Our natural human reaction will be cynicism and bitterness and endless blame. But what we can do, if we accept God’s offer, is pick ourselves up and keep following Him in a way that can make things better, not worse.

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The Choice is Yours

In Genesis chapter four, we are told that Cain and Abel both brought a sacrifice to God. But apparently, Cain did not bring God the best that he had to offer:

“The Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”

No one likes to fail, especially when we know we have disappointed God. But God gives Cain an opportunity to make things right. Instead of getting mad about the situation, he can decide to do well in the future rather than continuing to be selfish.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

One thing that really stands out from God’s words to Cain is the emphasis on the fact that Cain has a choice. He can do well and be accepted, or he can be overtaken by sin, but he has a choice in this matter. He has no reason to be angry precisely because he is the one who has chosen to sin in the first place, and he is the one who can choose to pursue a different course in the future.

Many in our day would not have written Genesis this way. Instead, they might have written, “If I cause you to do well, will not you countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, and it will destroy you unless I arbitrarily choose to cause you to beat it.”

This is because many in our world deny the concept that human beings have any say in their own actions. On one hand, they teach, we are forced to do wrong by an inherently wicked human nature. On the other hand, God may override this nature and force us to do well, but we have no choice in this matter, either.

Ironically, this teaching is in many ways very similar to the doctrine of contemporary atheistic materialists. These men teach that human beings are simply a product of our genetics and our physical environments. If we do right, we had no choice in the matter. If we do wrong, we had no choice in the matter. Free will is an illusion and we are all just “dancing to our DNA.”

But Genesis paints a different picture. “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Notice, God does not say “you must master sin with no help from me.” He does not even say “you must muster some strength of your own and I will help you with the rest.” God does not tell Cain that he has to beat sin by a power that originates in his own human self. But He does suggest that Cain has a choice in the matter. That choice is the choice to turn it all over to God. To put Him in the highest place. To count any cost as worth it in order to be His.

Will you make the decision to submit yourself to God? If you know what He asks of you, will you do it? The choice is yours. Which means the responsibility is yours. If you do not choose well, you will not have a good excuse to become angry.