Questions God Asks

Why Are You Angry?

Genesis 4:1-6

Teaching t12663


We are examining some of the many questions God asks biblical characters.  We often ask questions because we are seeking information – but God doesn’t because He already knows all things.  Rather, He usually asks questions as a wise counselor – to help us realize what our real needs are, the inadequacy of our attempts to meet those needs, and thus to be willing to receive the help He wants to give us.

This week and last week, we are looking at two questions that give insight into two very common human problems – inordinate fear (LAST WEEK) and sinful anger (THIS WEEK).  I find that most people wrestle with one of these more than the other (according to their personality) – but that we all wrestle with both of them.

Righteous vs. sinful anger

Like fear, anger is not inherently sinful.  After all, God gets angry every day (Ps. 7:11).  Jesus never sinned, He got angry on several occasions.  Check this one out (Jn. 2:13-17).  Here we see several ways in which righteous anger is different from sinful anger:

Jesus’ anger was God-centered (2:17 – explain); sinful anger is self-centered (e.g., reaction to bruised ego).

Jesus’ anger was redemptive (for the sake of the people crowded out; to convict the money-changers); sinful anger is retributive (QUALIFY: God has this authority).

Jesus’ anger was under control (2:15 – made scourge of cords); sinful anger is often out of control (e.g., verbal vomit; road rage).

Jesus’ anger was short-term (Eph. 4:26); sinful anger often simmers, broods, hardens into bitterness, etc.

So righteous anger is a healthy, constructive response to evil, while sinful anger is a destructive agent of evil.  Sinful anger has many manifestations depending on our personalities and the nature of the offences committed against us (outbursts of rage; revenge plots; passive-aggressive; gossip/slander; etc.).  The Bible talks much about sinful anger because we all have it.  Let’s look at the first biblical case of sinful anger, and the first question God asks about it . . .

The first case of sinful anger

Read Gen. 4:1-5.  Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s first two sons.  God had taught them to relate to Him through the offering of sacrifices (EXPLAIN WHY).  Why did God accept Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s?  4:4b,5a (“. . . for Abel . . . for Cain”) imply that their respective attitudes were the reason.  Read Heb. 11:4,6.  Abel offered his sacrifice with an attitude of faith in God – that is, Abel trusted that God loved him, and that this sacrifice was somehow a picture of God’s loving provision for his sins.  Cain offered his sacrifice without faith – probably as a religious ritual to pay God off, please his parents, etc.  Cain reacts by becoming very angry (4:5b) – wearing his anger on his face (as we usually do when very angry).

The rest of this passage teaches us two important lessons about sinful anger (read 4:6-13):

It is very destructive.  God warns Cain that unless he masters/escapes from its clutches, sin will destroy him through it.  Cain’s refusal to respond properly leads to envy toward his brother, which leads to the murder of his brother (4:8).  It also fuels lying to God, and justifying his non-concern for his brother (4:9).  It also leads to estrangement from other people (4:11,12), and it skews his perception of God (4:13 – this is a light punishment compared to what he deserves!).  Here is a great irony.   Sinful anger feels empowering, but it unleashes destructive forces that overpower us and ruin us and others.

It is rooted in wrong beliefs (4:6).  God doesn’t say: “Just quit being angry!”  Anyone who has tried this knows you can’t just turn anger off like a light.  Instead, God asks: “Why are you angry?”  He wants Cain to identify the wrong (ego-centric) beliefs that spawned his anger, and to change them.  That’s what God means in 4:7 by “doing well.”  God doesn’t command Cain him to merely “act nice;” He says: “If you change your wrong beliefs, you will be released from your sinful anger.  But if you refuse to change your wrong beliefs, sinful anger will master you.”

God makes this same point with Jonah when he is filled with sinful anger over other disappointments.  He asks Jonah twice: “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (Jon. 4:4,9).  When Jonah insists he does, God creatively points out that his reasons for being angry are hypocritical and invalid (Jon. 4:10,11).

This insight is not the only biblical step to gain increasing freedom from sinful anger, but it is foundational and critical, as we will see.  Let’s now consider these steps . . .

Steps toward freedom from sinful anger

The first step is to receive God’s forgiveness for your sinful anger.  This step is critical, because it is the decision that reconciles you to God and allows His Spirit to indwell you and begin to transform your life. 

You may think: “My anger doesn’t need God’s forgiveness because it is justified by what people have done to me, because it hasn’t hurt people that much, etc.” – but you are wrong.  God says that He is the only One who has the right to take vengeance (Rom. 12:19), so our vengeance is an act of treason against Him – a capital crime.  And Jesus says that our sinful anger (even if only in thought) is a form of murder that deserves God’s judgment (read Matt. 5:21,22).  According to this standard, who among us is not guilty?

Abel’s blood cried out to God, requiring His judgment of Cain’s sinful anger (Gen. 4:11).  The damage done to the victim’s of our sinful anger also cries out to God also, requiring His judgment of us.  But God has sent His own Son Jesus to shed His blood and take the judgment we deserve.  That’s why the Bible says that Jesus’ blood “speaks better than the blood of Abel” (read Heb. 12:24 NLT).  No matter how much your sinful anger has damaged others (including even murder) Jesus’ death is big enough to pay for it and forgive you – if you ask Him to do this.  Have you asked Him for this?  If not, will you?

Once you have received God’s forgiveness, God permanently makes you His child and indwells you with His Spirit.  As you live by faith in Him as your Father, His Spirit will gradually free you from sin’s enslavement – including sinful anger.  Such faith involves both cooperating practically to combat your sinful anger and identifying and replacing the wrong beliefs that lead to sinful anger (as we saw above in Gen. 4).

Here are some we trust God by practically cooperating to combat our sinful anger:

Avoid ugly anger outbursts and/or nip them in the bud (Prov. 17:14) instead of indulging them.  This is important because of the relational damage such outbursts can do to your spouse, children, friends, etc.  EXAMPLES: leave the room, saying you need to calm down; stay away from activities that feed/exacerbate  it (EXAMPLES).

When you have an ugly anger outburst, promptly take full responsibility for it and ask for forgiveness.  This can greatly limit the damage, and it models humility.

If sinful anger is a besetting sin, admit it to key people in your life, tell them you are asking God to change you, and ask for their prayer (Jas. 5:16) and help (e.g., early warning to use prevention strategy; feedback about exacerbating factors; correction/intervention; etc.).  This is one reason why involvement in Christian community is essential to real transformation.

Let God resolve past wounds.  Past neglect and/or abuse – especially by parental figures during childhood – can leave deep wounds that “come out sideways” (anger as secondary emotion) and/or feed bitterness and other forms of sinful anger that affect the present.  When this is the case, God wants us to face these wounds with Him and allow Him to teach us to resolve them by grieving them, forgiving the offender, confronting/setting boundaries with the offender, etc.  This will likely require prayer and counsel and wisdom from Christians.  Someone in your home church has likely done this and can offer this help.  See also Ajith Fernando, Reclaiming Love, pp. 144-146 for helpful advice on this. 

Practice thanksgiving toward God and encouraging others (Eph. 4:29; 5:4b).  Thanksgiving will help you stay focused on God’s provisions. Encouragement will help you to stay focused on people’s positive aspects.  Over time, this “crowds out” the negative focus that feeds sinful anger.  This merges into the other way we put our faith in God . . .

Ask God to show you “why you are angry.”  Ask Him to reveal the wrong beliefs that trigger (not cause) your anger, and counteract them by faith in His provisions, which make sinful anger inappropriate and unnecessary. EXAMPLES:

One common anger-trigger lie is: “I should not be inconvenienced.”  Think of all the anger that comes when being stuck in traffic, being cut off by a bad driver, having a household appliance break down, having our schedules interrupted, etc.  A brother who was convicted about his road rage once asked me why he was so vulnerable to it.  I told him: “Part of it is that you believe you are the center of the universe when you are not.”  This ego-centric belief is reinforced by our culture, but it is already deep in our hearts.  The root cure is regularly “vacating the throne” and trusting God’s wise and sovereign care.

Another anger-trigger lie is: “I have the right to pay them back.”  This sense of justice – that people should have to pay for the terrible things they have done. – is not a wrong belief.  But:

Only God has this ultimate right – and He God promises to fully repay unrepentant offenders (Rom. 12:19).  So our belief in God’s ultimate judgment helps us to let go of our anger since we know they will not “get off the hook.”

God also says that we deserve His judgment for our many sins against Him, yet He has satisfied His justice through His Son’s judgment for us.  The moment we receive Christ, God frees us forever from His judgment, even though we remain sinners!  Being the recipient of this amazing forgiveness is an impelling motive to extend forgiveness to those who have sinned against us (Eph. 4:31,32).

Another anger-trigger lie is envy: “They have it better than I.”  We saw this in Cain’s downfall.  But what is the antidote to envy?  It is realizing that through faith in Christ, God treats me far better than I deserve!  Asaph, the author of Ps. 73, was eaten up by sinful anger because of his envy of the wealthy wicked.  When he finally went to God over this, God showed him how rich he was (read Ps. 73:21-28).  You could do the same thing with your envy!

Another anger-trigger lie is: “You must give me security, acceptance, significance, etc.”   These are idolatrous relational demands – expecting finite, fallen people to meet needs that only God can meet.  This is one of the biggest reasons for ongoing anger and bitterness that leads to relational breakdowns (e.g., marriages; parent-child; close friends; etc.).  But no fallen human being can ever fully meet these needs.  Despite their best intentions, they will be inadequate, disappointing, etc.  Like David Wilcox says, “We cannot trade empty for empty; we must go to the Waterfall.”  As God’s children, we have ongoing access to His full acceptance, the security of His perfect care, and the significance of advancing His purpose.  As we learn to draw upon His love to meet these core needs, we can let go of our disappointments because we have One who will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).

There are other anger-triggers that we don’t have time to cover (e.g., bigotry).  But when you realize that you are chronically angry in certain situations and/or about certain people, ask God: “Why am I angry?  What am I demanding from people and life and God instead of trusting what He provides?”