When I went to the hair salon the other day, the customers were talking about the bombers from the Boston marathon. The hair cutter said that she was tired about talking about them. How long can we keep dwelling on evil? However, I think, we should always find some place to identify with evil-doers and think on what we need to watch out for so that we do not end in the same place as them.
I am sure that most of you heard about the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, that before he was caught, his friends communicated with him on social media, asking him, “Why he was doing these bombings,” to which he retorted: “Obama’s dropping bombs every day, why can’t I?”
I do not want to argue politics, but I do want to point out that some kind of anger was behind the bombing, self-initiated vengeance, probably against the United States.
Can any of us ever become angry? Have we managed our own anger? What does the Bible teach us about anger? If we recall Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-16, we will learn that not only is anger important, anger was the cause of the very first murder and it continues to cause the death of innocent people today.
What do we learn from Genesis?
Cain was the first born son and at his birth his mom thanked God for him (4:1). Cain and his brother Abel decided to give a gift to the Lord from their own occupations- farming and sheep herding (4:2-4). What should be more natural than for someone to choose a gift from their own line of work?Cain as the first-born child led in giving the first gift. We know from Genesis 3:17-18 that farming was a difficult occupation: Adam was warned that “in toil” and “sweat” he would work the land because of its thorns and thistles. Abel, though, did better than Cain. Even though he may not have been the first-born, he gave from his first-born sheep and its fat portion, looking forward to the Hebrew sacrifices that would train people to understand better the need for Jesus to die as the perfect lamb for our sins. For example, in Leviticus, a sin offering was to be offered if any common person sinned even unwittingly. He or she was to bring a goat or lamb without blemish. The person doing the offering placed his or her hand on the head of the animal before blood was shed as a symbol of the transference of their sins. Neither the fat nor the blood was ever eaten but it was always given to the Lord (Lev. 3:17; 4:27-35). Second Corinthians 5:21 also reminds us: “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We repeat every time we have communion Jesus’ words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). What was the result? God looked with favor to Abel and God did not look with favor to Cain (Gen 4:5). What a bummer! We can empathize with Cain, can’t we? He looked like he tried his best. How can his younger brother have done better than him? He was a farmer, not a shepherd. So, how did he respond? We are told that he “burned/became hot/glowed with anger,” in other words, “he was exceedingly angry! And his face fell” (Gen 4:5). Have you ever been angry? That’s exactly what happens-our face becomes red! Cain was disappointed and angry. He was jealous and humiliated!
At this point, Cain has not yet sinned. Anger as an indicator of internal emotion is not something we can stop. But, what do we do next? Here we have some choice.
God told Cain: if you do well/good, your face will “lift up,” in other words, you can be cheerful, but if you do not do well/good, at the door sin is lurking for you, its desire is for you (Gen 4:6-7). The Apostle John tells us Cain came from the evil one (1 John 3:11). You can see that the imagery God uses is of a wild serpent that is ready to pounce on you once you walk outside. But God promises Cain: you can rule over it or you can master it. Cain can master his anger! It does not have to master him.
We are told in verse 8 that Cain spoke to Abel his brother. (In 4:8-10 “brother” is used four times, but Cain did not treat Abel as he should have treated a brother.) The original Hebrew does not tell us what he said, but the Greek translators explained what Cain said: “Let us go out to the field.”
Cain could have said: “So…God liked your sacrifice, ehh, but not mine!”
But, what should he have said?
“Hey, Abel, I was really upset that God didn’t like my offering. How did you know what to give?
Abel might then have said, “Well, I prayed and asked God.”
Cain might then have answered: “Well, I never thought of that!”
Abel could have responded: “Cain, I can really use some of your potatoes and vegetables. How about we trade? You give me some of your fruits and vegetables and I’ll give you one of my best sheep? As often as you want, I’ll be glad to trade.”
Instead, what did Cain do?
Even after talking to Abel, he wouldn’t let his anger go. His anger resulted in murder—out in the field-- where Cain thought no one would notice. But, even if Cain thought God wouldn’t see him out in the countryside, he should have imagined that God might notice that Abel no longer was around. What about Abel’s mom and dad—wouldn’t they notice? But Cain certainly didn’t expect that the ground and the blood themselves were crying out in behalf of the injustice done to Abel (4:10-12). When the hot anger was fanned to a greater heat, it resulted in the fiery destruction of someone created in God’s image. Then we have the lie to cover the sin. Where is Abel your brother?
“I know not.” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Or, we can rephrase it: “Am I myself supposed to be guarding my brother?” (Gen 4:9). That’s what Abel used to do with the sheep-guard them—against wild animals. But the wildest animal of all was his own brother! His own brother should have loved him and cared for him and given his own life to protect him, as John elaborates in 1 John 3:11-12: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
Anger affected every aspect of Cain’s life:
His work- “Now, cursed are you from the ground which opened wide its mouth to receive the blood of your brother from your hand. When you work the ground, it will not give its strength any more to you, you will roam around and wander in the earth” (4:11-12).His relationship to others and to God: “Behold! You drive me out this day from upon the face of the ground and from your face I will be hid” (4:14).The anger and harm Cain displaced against Abel would then be displaced against Cain: “I will be a roamer and wanderer in the earth and it will happen all finding me will murder me” (4:14)He would be lonely. Where does he settle? He lives in Nod (which means “wandering about”) east (opposite to/in front of) Eden (4:16). Cain still wants to stay close to his parents’ first home, the garden of paradise, where God walked in the evening breeze (3:8).
Similar ramifications to anger happened in Boston. Who knows what internal anger these brothers felt? But, at least, outwardly they expressed anger against the U.S. government: four innocent people were murdered, almost 300 (280) were injured, 13 loosing limbs! One suspect is himself dead. The other certainly is not going back to school or to work, his relationship to family and friends is shattered. These brothers’ anger against others has and will rebound on themselves! They have become two Cains!
All of us need to work on controlling our anger! How can we master it? I would like to give you 5 suggestions that begin with these letters “ALARM”:
1. Analyze the kind of anger you have. Is it caused by jealousy of another? In other words, is it unjust? Or, is it just? Is it against sin (Rom 1:18)? Or, are you just frustrated and need a rest?
Do you remember Mark 3:1-6? Jesus was about to heal a man who had a withered hand on the Sabbath. The religious leaders were more upset that Jesus intended to heal on the Sabbath than joyful the man would be healed. So, Jesus reminded them that the point of the Sabbath is to do good and save lives. When he saw how the religious leaders were still out to accuse him, Jesus became angry with them because of their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5).
When Jesus observed how malicious these folks were, what did he do? Did he call down lightning from heaven to burn them up? No, he went ahead and restored the man’s hand and went on with his ministry of preaching and healing. Jesus’ anger was caused for just reasons, against sin, but still his anger did not cause their deaths. He still planned on continuing his teaching and dying for their sin.
2. Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” In other words, anger is to be limited. For the Hebrews, a new day began when the sun comes down, in the evening. So, Paul tells us, handle your anger right away. Do it in 24 hours before your anger sets in. Psalm 4:4, which Paul quotes, recommends: “When you are angry…ponder it on your bed and be silent.” In other words, relax, think about it, and put your trust in the Lord.
3. Jesus explains in Matthew 5:23-24: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Appease! Cain spoke to Abel. He should have tried to be reconciled. You can’t always succeed, but you should give it a try. The point Jesus makes is for you to be reconciled, not for you to tell others not to bring their gifts! It takes a lot of humility and courage to try to be reconciled.
You know what often happens to me? When I become angry and then try to be reconciled, I often discover that I have misread the situation. I did not exactly understand the other person’s motives. Most times they were not as malicious as I thought. Abel wasn’t out to compete against Cain. By faith he offered an acceptable sacrifice, according to Hebrews 11:4. We’re told faith is the conviction of things not seen (11:1). Abel had not yet seen the sacrificial system enacted, but he found out and acted on it.
4. Regard with love. Love even those who hate you, according to 1 John 3:13-16: “Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
5. If problems still exist, learn to manage your anger. Don’t be too proud to find and participate in an anger management group! Seek a long term solution, maybe in peer counseling.
Ephesians 4:31-5:2 has a similar message: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We can continue to love, even if we have been unjustly treated, because we know that vengeance belongs to God alone, as Paul tells us in Romans 12:19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” God will repay and, if God repays, it will be just, unlike when we repay.
To summarize, ¿how do we master anger? ALARM—(1) analyze the cause of your anger, (2) limit your anger, (3) appease or be reconciled, (4) regard with love, (5) manage your anger.
Someone in the Bible was going along the path of Cain, but where Cain just killed one godly person, this individual killed many godly people. He described himself as formerly “a violent person.” A violent person inflicts both verbal and physical acts of abuse, but primarily physical abuse (Luke 11:45; 1 Tim 1:13). This person attacked, dishonored, and physically abused countless Christians, condemned them to prison and to death. He even went from house to house and dragged men and women to be arrested. He worked within the law and he thought he was walking in accordance with God’s will, but he found out later he was working against God. I write, of course, about Saul Paul from Tarsus. He may have persecuted Christians for about a year (A.D. 34-35). He had them whipped, stoned, and killed (Acts 8:1-3, 26:10-11). What changed him? He tells us: Jesus’ grace overflowed with faith and love into his very spirit (1 Tim 1:14). The same grace God offered to Saul, God had offered to Cain. God did not kill Cain as Cain had killed Abel, but God punished him, leaving him without a home. When Cain complained, the Lord even protected him against others. But still, we never have any record that Cain repented, unlike Paul who did repent and his life was transformed. The Boston bomber will never probably get out of prison but his life can still be transformed. If he is not executed, even in prison he can live a life of service where Jesus’ grace can overflow into him out to others. Jesus is calling us: today is the day for all of us angry people to be transformed by Jesus’ grace, faith, and love.
This is my prayer: Lord, we ask for your grace to overflow into our hearts and spirits and into our families and into our work relationships, as we try to understand and master our everyday anger with your help. Thank you! Amen!
 Bible quotations are from the NRSV. The author includes her own translation of the Hebrew Gen 4:1-16.
 www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Marathon_bombings accessed May 7, 2013.
 A version of this blog was preached at Pilgrim Church, 300 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA.