September 12

Questions with Strange Answers, #9

Genesis 4:3-8 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

The Lord’s questions here aim at stirring up Cain’s heart and pointing him to two realities: the real reason for his anger, and a perspective of justice that exists outside of his feelings about his brother: “Why are you angry?” and “… If you do well….”

Think of the many possible responses to “Why are you angry?”
• “I don’t know—is there a problem?”
• “I thought my offering would be accepted, and I’m angry because I don’t understand why it wasn’t.”
• “I’m angry because I’m jealous of my brother.”
(Note the increasing honesty of the possible alternative answers.)

Instead, incredibly, after a direct question and a strong warning, there is no answer—well, no verbal answer. Cain’s response to God’s question was whatever dialog he had with Abel and its bloody aftermath. Of the conversation, Scripture only says that Cain “talked with Abel his brother”—no more details than that. Clearly, the talk didn’t go well. So the only response Cain provides to the question, based on how the Word presents the story, is a talk that culminated in his killing Abel.

Yet, notice that the Lord doesn’t stop after the first question, but asks three in a row. As He steers Cain to be honest with the first question, he “heads him off at the pass” from answering too quickly by asking the other two. This prevents a quick and easy answer, and it provides God the opportunity to teach Cain about the power of sin and its dangerous closeness. Cain was in trouble spiritually, and the Lord was giving him a warning. The Lord’s questions were an attempt to create a teachable moment, by acknowledging a wrong attitude, trying to stir an honest response in Cain to the pain of jealousy, and finally, providing a strong warning about the power of sin and the Lord’s desire that Cain should rule over his sin and not vice versa.

Has the Lord ever stirred something and then not resolved it? Perhaps He has put you in that teachable moment. Perhaps His Spirit—directly, through the Word or through a friend—has touched an issue, and now the Lord is working to teach you, warn you, or encourage you. When the Lord touches a sensitive issue, start looking for His teaching in that area. You can be fairly sure that your own human perspectives on the matter will either fall short or send you in the wrong direction. So ask, knock and seek what else He has to say in addition to what you’ve heard. May we take warnings when they’re given, and may we receive any teachings or new perspectives that come our way.

Prayer: Father, help me to be open when you question me. Help me to hear and be honestly responsive. Then help me to continue to hear what You say. Forbid it, Lord, that my head should take over at that point, and I pray I will keep listening with an open heart.

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