God asks Cain and Abel to bring him an offering. Cain presents a gift of grain, and Abel sacrifices some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord rejects Cain’s gift but accepts his brother’s offering with pleasure. Does Cain bring God the wrong thing, or does he simply have a bad attitude? No one knows. The Bible doesn’t say.
God sees Cain’s sour expression and asks, “Why are you angry?” (Gen. 4:6). That’s a great question. Why is Cain angry? What has Abel done to him?
Clinical psychologist Gary Oliver, director of the Center for Healthy Relationships at John Brown University, says that anger is a secondary emotion triggered by primary emotions such as hurt, frustration, or fear. Suppose that nothing is going right for Bob today. He gets a speeding ticket on the way to work. A networking problem renders his computer useless for three hours. And highway construction makes his long commute home seem interminable. When Bob finally joins his family for dinner, his wife and kids can’t do anything right. What have they done? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Then why is he angry? Bob’s anger is caused by frustration.
Frustration seems to be the cause of Cain’s anger. Frustrated is how we feel when we should be able to do something but can’t. Cain wants to make the Lord happy with an offering that pleases only himself. Good luck with that! Cain is frustrated with God. God isn’t cooperating. But Cain can’t kill God. So he kills God’s friend Abel instead.
Understanding the emotions that trigger anger can help me make better choices. If I’m continually quarreling with coworkers or relatives, someone may ask, “Why are you so angry?” Blowing off this question isn’t a good idea. It’s an invitation to some serious introspection. Why am I so angry? Am I hurt? Maybe a parent or spouse neglected, abused, or abandoned me. Am I frustrated? Maybe I have unrealistic expectations. I push myself to change things beyond my control. Am I afraid? Maybe I’m worried about my health, my finances, or my family’s spiritual direction.