A woman was taking her time browsing through everything at a friend’s yard sale, and said to her, “My husband is going to be very angry I stopped at a yard sale.” “I’m sure he’ll understand when you tell him about the bargains you found,” her friend replied.
“Normally, yes,” she said. “But he just broke his leg, and he’s waiting for me to take him to the hospital to have it set.”
We all have to deal with anger, at least once in a while. Many of us do it well; while others have yet to figure out how to put out a fire before it starts. As James 3:5 says, a little spark can kindle a great fire.
Our scripture story starts out the way all things start out—everything is just fine until… until something happens to change it. But we might imagine a bit of back story, considering someone doesn’t usually get this mad and full of hatred because of one event.
The truth is Cain had grown to loathe Abel. It had been building for years. No matter what Abel always seemed to turn a situation to his advantage. Was there a conflict? Abel the humble loved to be the first to reconcile. Did anyone need help? Abel the servant loved to be the first to offer it. Was there an injury? Abel the compassionate loved to be the first to comfort.
But then came the final straw: Cain’s offering was rejected by God and Abel’s was warmly accepted by God. Cain was stunned and humiliated by Abel again! Hatred exploded into action. By late afternoon Abel’s lifeless and bloody body lay in a remote field, abandoned in the hope that a beast’s hunger would conceal the fratricide.
Cain could have fooled Eve and Adam, the first parents. After all, they had no experience with such a murderous deed, since it was the first one ever—the first of an infinite number of times for parents who are caught blindsided by their children and realize they’ve been basically flying by the seat of their pants raising children. Poor Adam and Eve.
While they were fooled, the Lord wasn’t. I mean, seriously there weren’t enough people around not to be able to keep track of each one. Abel was missing, and God wanted to know if Cain knew his whereabouts. Cain lied and then tried to outmaneuver God by answering a question with the now famous question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But the Lord would have none of it. Abel’s blood itself told him what had happened.
For many of us this is a familiar story, and that’s probably why it’s so easy to get diverted to side issues, which don’t feel at all like side issues. They feel really important.
So for example people wonder: Why didn’t God accept Cain’s sacrifice? If God cares so much about Abel, why didn’t God stop Cain from killing his brother? Why didn’t God kill Cain, like the Bible later teaches, a life for a life? Where did Cain go? Who were the other people Cain was afraid would kill him?
It’s like the question about the Garden of Eden and the snake. Why is there a snake in the Garden? Why did God create a snake?
These are all interesting questions that scholars and Sunday school children and teachers have discussed and debated for centuries. The problem is we’re just going to keep discussing because the story doesn’t do what we want it to do. It does what it wants to do.
Why? Because, well, the really short answer is that the stories of Genesis chapters 1-11—creation, fall, murder, flood—belong closer to great stories that when they come from other cultures and religions we call myths.
Now I know it sounds like a put down to say they’re myths, but it’s not a put down—not really. Three things about myths: They point to a fundamental human condition that cannot and will not change. This human condition is the same everywhere for everyone. This human condition can’t really be explained. The story of the tempting snake in the garden doesn’t tell us why the snake is there or who put it there. It’s just there.
The fundamental truth of our human condition, the story tells us, is that the choice for good or bad is always close at hand.
So when it comes to our myth today, what is the fundamental human condition that’s being raised? Murder? Actually, it’s not murder, though that would seem to be the one. No, it’s what might “cause” someone to murder.
The story of Cain and Abel focuses on how some people are more favored than others. Some people have life by the horns. They’re clearly favored it appears by God. There are princes and princesses in life, the ones for whom life is smooth-sailing. These are Abel’s blessed children.
There are also Cain’s kids who experience life as difficult, and for many, many very difficult. Children grow up in homes where there is abuse, sometimes terrible and tragic, unspeakable abuse. Why? We don’t know why and we will never know why, but they do. One child gets cancer, another
child doesn’t. Why does one child get cancer while another and others don’t? We don’t know why but this is what happens.
Some adults never even get close to what they thought they would become while friends or relatives do great things. A terrible, out of the blue accident turns a healthy person into a paraplegic.
Life is unfair—even though God exists.
So the portion of the story that gets the most activity and dialogue in the story is how, after Cain realizes fully life isn’t fair, “Why are you angry?” it say, will he deal with it, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Cain’s response, scripture tells us, is the beginning of envy that leads to hatred that leads to killing and murder.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes, it’s our fault, but many times it’s not. Most of the time, we simply accept the problem, deal with it, and move on. But other times we’re a bit like Cain and want to lash out.
I mean there’s no doubt today that many, many people feel like it’s their right to be angry, very angry at how life is not working out for them. I’ve only been around for 49 years but I can’t help believe that since I’ve been an adult this is the angriest America has been. We seem to be getting more callous toward each other, more doubtful of the worth or value of another’s life. Anger and hatred toward others are dangerous emotions to play around with.
Don’t lash out. Keep your cool. Let things go. Chill out. Don’t walk around like a powder keg. Recognize when you’re about to blow or you’re all tensed up, and get to talking to the Lord, so the Spirit can get in there and do some spiritual triage on you.
How serious am I about this? Pretty serious. So serious in fact that Marit and I teach our children not to say the word hate, as in “I hate green beans,” or “I hate Justin Bieber.” I know it may not sound like much but we believe playing with even the word “hatred” is playing with fire. Only bad things can come from using the word that when spoken crystallizes a very strong antipathy toward someone or something. There’s very little room to maneuver emotionally and relationally toward anyone or anything when we use the “H” word. It’s a good spiritual practice to forego the word hate.
It’s sort of like when you’re on a diet or watching what you eat. “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” A moment on the lips and a lifetime on the heart.
Now I’m not saying we teach our kids to be push-overs. We all need to know when to stand up for ourselves. This is an absolutely important life skill.
Diana Willard is back in the hospital because her doctor took the stitches in her hand out too early. Her hand opened up and so they had to get her back in. That’s also when they found what they thought was a bone infection. Turned out it was merely a regular infection.
At that hospital she received a regular shot of antibiotics as protocol but of course it went bad. Her right upper arm blew up and got all hard. This happened at a hospital where she had already experienced several problems the last time there.
Then they told her they were going to put a PICC line in her. A PICC is inserted in a vein in the arm and then advanced toward the heart through increasingly larger veins, until the tip rests right near the heart. She said, “No way!” Diana checked herself out of that hospital, went home, took a nap, and then drove over to West Boca Hospital. Her hand is doing much better.
How many of you would have said “No”? How many of you would have just gone along with getting the PICC line? Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. That’s a good thing.
But it’s not about getting all into anger and hating someone else.
Have you heard of people being called “haters?” It means people who are envious of someone who’s doing well. The word “haters” has been said to stand for: Having Anger Toward Everyone Reaching Success.
“Haters Gonna Hate” is one well known saying these days, which means some people have a lot of envy and anger inside of them—and there’s nothing you can do about it. I like, “Hug a hater. They hate that.” That’s funny. And “I am who I am. Your approval is not needed.” That’s a good one.
I can’t help feel as though a lot of anger today comes from self-pity—not from people sticking up for themselves at the right time and in the right way. The truth is I know people who have it pretty tough and so many of them aren’t complaining and yet they’re the ones who probably have a right to it.
But I’ll read something on Facebook or hear about something someone said or did, something full of hatred toward someone else, and I know that person doesn’t have it nearly as bad as other people who don’t think or act
like they do. While life isn’t unfair, filling ourselves with self-pity doesn’t help at all.
Be careful with self-pity. Watch out when you see yourself as victim. Rarely does that lead to a good place.
There’s no doubt we’re our brother’s keeper to a certain extent. Jesus said when you come across someone in need, that person has just become your neighbor, someone to care about and care for.
I think the most important point of this story however is not the brother’s keeper part, though it’s an amazing question and rightly makes us think about who our brothers and sisters are.
The story itself seems to point to something that comes first and is even more fundamental and important: We are our own keepers. If there isn’t unanimous consent as to whether or not we’re our sister’s keeper, that can’t be said for whether we are our own keeper. Yes you are your own keeper. The direction you take your life is up to you.
Keep yourself from anger, from the anger that leads toward hatred. Do well, even when things aren’t going well. Keep faith with God’s timing. Life isn’t fair, for sure, but God is good.
Can anybody say Amen?