but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Genesis 4:5
Very Angry – Since Hebrew is a phenomenological language, it expresses most human emotions in picturesque descriptions of physical phenomena. Cain’s reaction is a perfect example. The Hebrew text is yi- khar me-od, literally “burned (glowed) greatly”. This physical depiction helps us recognize something about the nature of sin. Sin has a physiological effect.
What’s happening to Cain? A few preliminary questions will help us find the answer. Who is the object of Cain’s wrath? God. Doesn’t that seem a bit unusual? God always does what is motivated by good. He is filled with compassion. His instructions always lead toward righteousness and result in peace and joy. Why would anyone be angry at God?
There can only be one reasonable answer (there might be a lot of unreasonable ones). The only logical answer is that Cain’s ego dismissed God’s character as unimportant. In other words, Cain felt that God had no right to insist on something other than what Cain was willing to give. Cain’s evaluation was more important than God’s. If we didn’t know better, we might say that Cain was the original Greek philosopher. He surely advocated that “Man is the measure of all things.” Of course, the Greeks didn’t invent this point of view. Wherever men reject God’s authority, they join Cain in his red-faced anger. Cain’s first fatal flaw was his insistence that he knew what was good. He listened to himself instead of listening to the external authority of the Creator.
Cain’s countenance fell. This is also instructive. When Cain should have fallen on his face in contrition, he chose to stand defiantly before God. Of course, all that does is create a mirror for disobedience and the reflection in that mirror humiliates the defiant one. Refusing to fall before God in submission, Cain stood while his face fell. Repentance has one physiological effect. Rebellion has another. The sunburn of sin just makes the defiant face all the more visibly contorted. When we stand before the Lord, confronted in our sloppy disregard for the things of God, there are only two possible reactions: body-falling in submission or face-falling in rebellion. The first involves the entire person. The second attempts to compartmentalize who we are. One of the physiological effects of sin is fragmentation.
Reflecting on the story of Cain helps us see the SPF warnings (Sin Protection Factor). Sin creates physical disharmony. It separates us into discordant parts. It causes emotional disturbance. Any (or all) of these warning signs are indicators that we are moving away from the promise of God’s peace. God promises integration. Obedience brings harmony. Mind, body and soul (a very Greek metaphor) flow together – and it shows. If you begin to experience disintegration, if you find yourself feeling sin-burned, how much better it would be to fall before the compassionate God. Cain’s defiance led to the second original sin. His story reminds us that we are homogenized beings. Pay attention to what is happening in you and you’ll experience early warning signals before they lead to “glowing greatly”.
Topical Index: Sin