Saturday, July 25, 2009

Counseling an Angry Brother

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” --Genesis 4:6,7 (ESV)

Breaking It Down
Cain's sin is iconic in that it is the first sibling rivalry, the first murder, and caused the first exile. He not only hated his brother with jealousy, but his hate gave rise to the shedding of blood. What is an amazing component of the story is that God gave a warning to Cain regarding his temptation to sin. God asked him the question, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” The question is a use of parallelism. The first phrase “why are you angry” points to the emotional response in Cain that he feels an injustice has been committed against him. The second part of the question is basically a repetition of the idea with a little extra twist to draw attention to the fact that Cain is not only angry, but he is visibly angry. God is helping Cain be honest with his loss. Cain lost his reputation of righteousness, he lost his sense of acceptance, and felt like there was an injustice. The next strand of advice given by God is the concept that there is reward for righteousness. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Cain, apparent from this advice, was questioning if a reward is given to those who do the right thing. It is common to the human experience that one does not always feel there is punishment for sin and reward for doing good. We feel that the events of providence do not bring about justice. Yet God is reassuring Cain that there is justice. This anger and despair of injustice makes Cain a likely prospect for sin personified: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” The solution to Cain's temptation is simply to do well, to offer his sacrifice in faith instead of in unbelief. His unbelief is not simply the one act of unworthy sacrifice though, since his unbelief is causing him to question the very nature of justice in this life and ultimately question the character of God. Sin personified is crouching like a predator ready to spring onto its victim right by his door, ready over power him the next time he goes out. Lastly, there is a match against authority, either sin or Cain will reign. “Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” While the jealousy against his brother shows Cain desires to not be dominated by anyone, in reality, he is warned against being dominated by sin personified. This allegorical way of speaking of sin helps to draw attention to the fact that sinning means one is under the dominion of sin, but to be in dominion over sin means to follow God's way.

Using The Passage as a Model
God's advice to Cain can be a good model for counseling those who are tempted to sin. Though it is just few short lines, the conversation is helpful in pointing to an honest assessment of loss and viewing earthly desire from a transcendent perspective.

1. What Are You Feeling?
God asked about his angry disposition and demeanor. When counseling someone who is being tempted, it is prudent to ascertain your spiritual friend's story. Sometimes the simple act of telling his story will help to solidify why he is feeling as he does. Ask questions about emotional states. Making observations on body language, tone of voice and demeanor can help the spiritual friend to become self aware of his own feelings, moods and attitudes. Asking your spiritual friend to interpret those indicators show that you are not rash in your assessment, but wise to understand that one may have various emotional indicators for a variety of reasons. Ask questions about your friend.

2. Help Your Friend to Have Faith and Hope
God pointed out his reward for doing well. When counseling we should infuse a proper understanding of faith and hope. We are not talking about the kind of hope that is mentioned merely on a Hallmark greeting card, but the kind that realistically understands the sorts of rewards God gives for faith in his work and character. To infuse this sort of hope one can talk about God's promises in the Bible. One can also look at stories of God's blessing on men and women of faith. Lastly, we can share personal stories of God's faithfulness in our own life. Don't make it sappy but real.

3. Doing the Right Thing Keeps Us From Doing the Wrong Thing
God says that sin can be avoided by simply doing what is right. This is in agreement with Romans 6 where Paul exhorts the readers to offer their bodies not to sin but to righteousness. Our hands are designed to work, so let them do works of righteousness. Our feet are meant to travel, so let them not merely avoid the road to bad places, but let them also carry food to the hungry or go to visit the feeble in the nursing home. But in all this, the good thing must be done in faith, not out of compulsion.

4. Your Heart's Desire Is Often One Reflecting a Heavenly One
God knows that the issue of dominion is a big issue with Cain. However, Cain does not see that the issue of dominion is not between two brothers but between sin and righteousness. Either sin will rule or righteousness. If he gives into his hate, he will be dominated by sin. God actually tells him how his temporal desire is a reflection of a more noble one. We must see in our spiritual friend's evil desire what sort of good he is seeking. We must help him see the noble form of that desire. If he desires power, then power to conquer sin is the sort of power to lust after. G.K. Chesterton is credited with saying that "A man knocking on the door of a brothel is knocking for God." Examining the desire with the spiritual friend and discussing it with a new, godly spin can help to focus the desire toward the noble and righteous way of life.

If we counsel a spiritual friend we should take the time to understand their story and see their story with the eyes of faith. Faith in what God is doing in his life will aid him in living by faith.
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