WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE YOUR STORY? — Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 15th, 2015. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Gen 4.
Cain and Abel: The story of Cain and Abel is a story of two brothers (a younger and an older) in competition. Cain decides to bring a gift (offering) to the Lord, and Abel, the younger brother, then outdoes Cain’s offering with his fat portions. The story sets up a situation in which Cain must turn from the temptation to do evil–or fall into “sin” (a word which is mentioned for the first time in Genesis 4:7). This morning we want to look at this primal story of temptation and to listen to the counsel that God gives to Cain and God’s call to face and overcome temptation.
God is Calling Us to Listen to the Stories We Tell Ourselves.
“Why are you so upset? Why has your face fallen?”
We Tell Ourselves Stories: Stories are selective. When we tell stories we focus or attention on certain things and ignore other things. A story requires a frame of reference–a unifying idea or theme. We tell ourselves stories all the time, about the things that happen to us. Our stories are different from the stories of people around us. If both of us saw the same accident on the highway, chances are we would tell different stories, from different points of view, emphasizing different things.
Temptation is always part of a story with a theme–a frame of reference. God does not say to Cain, “Stop being angry,” but rather, God asks a frame of reference question, “Why are you angry?” In essence God says to Cain, “What’s the story? Explain to me what is making you angry.”
Stories Grow Feelings: Cain was telling himself a story about the offering and about God rejecting his offering that made him angry rather than reflective, repentant or concerned. Rather than coming to God to ask why his offering was disregarded, Cain told himself a particular story that caused him to become angry. He chose a point of view–he built a story on that point of view– he practiced that story. Cain’s feelings, his upset and anger, his hostility towards Abel, were the result of the story he was telling himself.
We respond to situations by telling ourselves stories. The temptation to say the things we say and to do the things we do and to feel the ways we feel–grows out of the stories we tell.
- We tell stories about what we need–what we cannot live without–although other people live without the same things. Our stories convince us that we must have our desires, our own particular “Must Haves.”
- We tell stories about the meanings of people’s actions and words–stories which focus on ourselves and what people think of us, what we deserve–often without regard to the story of the one who acted or spoke. We become filled with hate or fear or desire or competition.
- We tell stories about ourselves and our own lives and the meaning of what has happened to us. Our stories put us at the center of the world or make our lives empty and meaningless.
God is Calling Us to Recognize the Effects Our Stories Are Having.
God has already noted that Cain’s face has fallen. Now he confronts Cain… “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” or, more literally, “If you intend good, bear it aloft” The Hebrew here is obscure. God seems to be saying, “If you intend good lift up your face”–or “show me your face.” This would contrast with the idea that Cain’s face had “fallen” because he was upset. It may be the equivalent of a parent who says, “Look me in the eye,” although it is expressed more gently than that. God knows that Cain has created his own story and version of events, and that this story is having a toxic effect on Cain.
Our Toxic Stories Cause Withdrawal: Cain’s face is turned away–cast down. In a sense, Cain is doing what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3–he is hiding–he is withdrawing. The more Cain tells his story about how Abel has wronged him, the angrier he feels about the situation, the more he does not want to be in the presence of God, the more his face is turned away.
Our toxic stories affect us in the same way. We withdrawal from people because we become angry with them. We do not want to make things right. We do not want to have peace. We would rather grumble and rehearse our stories.
OurToxic Stories Delude Us: One of the really startling aspects of this story is Cain’s response when God disregards his offering. His response is to murder Abel. That is an over the top response. If we had never read or heard this story, we would not have anticipated that it would turn out this way.
How did Cain get from a rejected offering (his problem with God) to murdering his brother? He did it by telling a story that was completely deluded. Cain’s story centered around the idea that real problem was not his offering but Abel. Rather than taking responsibility for his own offering, Cain created a story about how Abel had wronged him.
We tell ourselves deluded stories which relieve us of responsibility and justify our hatred, our desire to control, our falsehoods, our greed, lust, wicked speech, and our irresponsibility.
God Is Calling Us to Confront and Rule Over Our Stories.
Cain is clearly given a choice here, and it is a choice that all of us have–a choice of what to do about this toxic story that he is telling himself. Cain can either give himself to his toxic story, or he can master it. God warns him that, if he gives himself to his toxic story, “… then sin is a crouching demon at your door…” However, God also says, “… but you can master him.”
Turn from What Can Become Demonic: Sin is described, here, as a crouching demon, lying in wait for Cain’s soul. Understand that sin is not going to take Cain over without his consent. Rather God is saying something like, If you continue to tell yourself this story and give yourself to this story, it will take control of you. God is calling Cain to stop listening to this evil story.
This is the nature of the stories we tell ourselves. We rehearse the wrongs others have done us, the things we deserve, the desires we cannot live without, the fears that we dread, until they feel so much a part of us that our reactions to people and situations feel automatic–not like a choice, but inevitable. We give ourselves to stories and they take us over.
“Rule Over” Your Story: But God calls us to choose to stop our toxic, false stories in their tracks. God tells Cain that there is another possibility–that he can “rule over,” take control of, the sinful story that is feeding him with anger. When God tells Cain that sin is crouching at the door, but he can rule over it, he is calling Cain to action. Cain needed to take himself in hand. He needed to ask himself some hard questions…
- What am I assuming about what I need or deserve?
- What have I chosen to believe about Abel, about God?
- What about this situation am I emphasizing or ignoring?
- Why am I really angry?
Ruling over sin and temptation–confronting our stories–is never passive–it never just happens. Ruling over our stories requires that we question ourselves, face the falsehoods and self-justifications in our stories, and lift up our faces to God to ask for repentance,help and forgiveness.
Join Your Story to The Larger Story of Redemption in Jesus: We all have toxic, sinful, false stories that we live by, that are revealed in the sinful disposition of our hearts, actions and words.
However, God is telling another story–the true story about our lives. It is the story that tells the truth about who we really are and what we are truly like. How we were made by God to be joyful, loving, upright people–to love God. How we have all been deluded by sin and fallen short of being the holy people God created us to be. How God sent his Son Jesus to rescue us–to lift our faces to God not in angry confrontation, but in forgiveness and love.
God will not force his story on us, but when we are willing to join ourselves to his story, it changes us. We become people who are able to be honest about the lies in our stories because we no longer need them to be true–they are no longer our only story. Instead God has given us a story in which we, forgiven sinners, are now being changed into the likeness of Jesus–redeemed, made new, looking forward to eternal life in the presence of God.