Anger Mismanagement—The Classic Case Study
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what
is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching
at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.
Go Deep: Proverbs 29:11 says, only “a fool gives full vent to his anger.” How many times have you proved that platitude to be true? If you’re like me, at least once, probably more!
The truth is, it is next to impossible to be angry and intelligent at the same time. To be sure, some anger is good. Channeled anger has been the motivation for much of the justice and societal change that has benefited the human family over time. Even the Bible indicates the appropriateness of righteous anger. But—and this is a big one—only if the anger is wrapped in intelligent thought!
So the question is, how do we win out over anger, rid ourselves of it before it either corrodes or destroys our most significant relationships, and turn it into an emotion that propels us toward positive personal growth?
The story of Cain here in Genesis 4:1-14 is a great case study. Unfortunately for Cain (and for Abel!), anger was not brought under control. But from Cain’s failure comes several anger management principles we would be wise to embrace.
To begin with, from Cain we learn that our very first response to the emotion of anger ought to be self-analysis. In other words, whenever I find myself getting upset, I ought to stop and say, “What does this say about me?” Notice how God attempts to get Cain to look within himself at the source of his anger: “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?” In essence, God is telling Cain that before he reacts, he ought to reflect.
Our first and best response to anger is simply to think about it. That simple action would keep us from so much of the hardship that results from our uncontrolled anger. William Penn wrote, “It is he who is in the wrong who first gets angry.” In reality, anger reveals what kind of person I am—what is really in my heart, my true character. C. S. Lewis said,
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. If there are rats in a cellar, you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me ill-tempered; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.”
So if you find yourself reacting in anger, ask yourself what the presence of anger is saying about your spirit or your character. Practice “slowing” …what James 1:19-20 says is being, “Quick to listen…slow to speak…slow to anger!” Develop the discipline of stopping to think it through!
Another crucial lesson this story teaches is that our response is more important than the circumstances that cause the anger. The truth is, what happens to me is never as important as what happens in me. That what God is saying to Cain: “If you do what is right, you’ll be accepted…” God doesn’t address the fairness or unfairness of what’s happened; he just says, “Cain, do the right thing!” When situations arise that disappoint me, I either can unleash an emotional reaction or I can offer an intelligent response that honors my walk with God and releases his blessings in my life.
Finally, Cain’s story teaches us that we are accountable to God for our anger. When Cain fails to do the right thing and instead, murders his brother, God calls to him to account: “Where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:9-12)
What we must remember is that one day we will stand before God and give account for our lives, including the inappropriate display of our anger. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that on judgment day, we’ll be answerable even for every idle word we speak. We won’t be able to say on that day, “My wife made me do it…my husband pushed me too far…my kids drove me nuts…the devil made me do it…I was genetically predisposed to anger…” If we try that excuse, God will look at us and say, “I expected you to master it, and you didn’t.” We’re accountable for anger!
Angry feelings are inevitable. We can’t escape them, but our anger doesn’t have to destroy the people we love—and in the process, cause our own spirits to shrivel. If we do the right thing with our anger, God says to us just as he said to Cain, “you will be blessed!”
Just Saying… There are occasions, of course, when anger is appropriate. But let’s be honest, that’s not very often. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.”