The story of Cain and Abel is a cautionary tale. A story about what can happen when we stand at a crossroad and choose the path that feels best (in the moment). The path that self-justifies, a path of blame and bitterness. Sin leads to death.

The word translated “accepted” would be better translated as “approved”. It means to rise up, to be exalted. Cain wants to be elevated. He wants approval. But Cain has chosen a perspective that God, or Abel, has blocked his goal. 

God directs Cain to do what we all ought to do in response to emotions: He asks “why are you angry”? God does not tell Cain to suppress his emotions – He acknowledges them. In asking ”why”, God invites Cain to investigate, to discover what value is underlying his emotion. 

After investigating, God makes clear that Cain has a decision to make. It is a binary choice. He can either stay rooted in a blame-centered perspective or he can change and do “what is right”. 

Cain can hold on to anger and demand his way or he can listen to God and do what is right. What will he do? 

Sadly, Cain chooses his own way. The way of sin. Therefore sin takes possession. In demanding his own way, he becomes a slave to sin. Cain chooses bitterness and blame. 

The choice presented to Cain is the choice we face every day. Multiple times a day. Will we choose what is right, the way God approves? Or will we let sin master us? Our sin is crouching. It wants to have us, to control us. Our “own way” is the path to slavery and death. Thankfully, we have a choice. We can rule over sin. We can choose what is right.

When our emotions flare, they are doing us a favor. They are telling us “something is wrong”. When this occurs, we should listen and investigate, discerning what is right. To align our actions with God’s ways. Then we can dismiss our emotions and thank them for their work, rather than being ruled by them.

The story of Cain and Abel is a classic narrative rich with insights and invitation. This is part two in a five-part devotional series from Yellow Balloons that explores the journey of Cain (and Abel) as he struggles to hear and perceive the ways of God. All along the way, the Lord stays near to Cain and offers us hope for redemption, no matter how great our sin. 

“…but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then 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 rule over it.”
– Genesis 4:5-7