and it cant get up.
“Why is your countenance fallen? 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 master it.” Genesis 4:7
God’s advice to Cain.
In my book The Unwelcome Blessing I highlight the struggles of various biblical characters in illustrating problems related to mood disorders and how these godly and yet all-to-human individuals coped (or didn’t).
The first example in scripture of a psychological condition with consequences is found just four chapters into humankind’s story in the tale of the first offspring: Cain and Abel. Cain is Adam and Eve’s firstborn and he tills the soil. Abel his younger brother “kept flocks.”
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the first born of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and his face was downcast.”
Cain was having a bad day. Some days are just like that. You try to please God and even that apparently gets you precisely nowhere. It just ain’t fair.
And so you ask, “What’s up with that?” What is God trying to teach us? What is His motive? Why is a flesh offering better than grain? Why did Cain get so angry and jealous that he murdered his brother?
There have been many speculations and commentaries regarding what the tale of Cain and Able is all about. Perhaps the bottom line is that Abel’s flesh offering foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice and relates to the statement: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)
However, my takeaway a dozen years ago when I wrote The Unwelcome Blessing had to do with anger and the consequences of a bad attitude:
“It is interesting to note that this is the first mention of sin in the Bible. Is it just coincidence that sin enters human consciousness paired with a bad attitude and resulting, at least partially, from a depressed emotional state? No, I think God is trying to teach us something important about sin, anger, attitude and depression.”
Among other things I make the point that depression used to be psychodynamically framed as anger turned on ones self. Anger, attitude and depression are intimately related and one of the subtler often overlooked signs of depression is anger. It often is expressed as grumpiness or a surly attitude.
Quoting from the chapter on Cain further:
“It is apparent that very early in our instruction manual God is trying to impress on us the consequences of anger and a bad attitude. It is somewhat of a circular process: anger leads to a bad attitude, which leads to negativity, which leads to depression, which ends up in more anger. For myself, I find that it is terribly difficult to break that cycle without repenting and asking the Holy Spirit for help.
“Programming our minds to think positively can be an aid in breaking the cycle of anger and depression. Being able to actively re-frame setbacks as challenges and learning experiences is central to that process. There was a time when I thought “the power of positive thinking” was a hopelessly naive approach to coping. Today, I realize it was I who was naive, or perhaps just blinded by the enemy and the sophistry and cynicism that seven years of university education brings.”
Solomon got it right three millennia ago when he wrote: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7, KJV)
“The rightness of one’s heart determines one’s thoughts, which in turn determines our behavior, which affects our inmost being. Once again a cycle—but this not a vicious one. If we so choose it can reflect the suffering/hope cycle of Romans 5:3-4. “We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character, hope.”
With God’s help we can re-frame our problem with anger and attitude and reprogram our thinking. If we do “what is right” by repenting, forgiving and making amends then sin will not own us as it did Cain. It wont stay crouching at our door. Repenting will ultimately result in a brighter spirit and will help overcome depression. Our “fallen countenance” can get back up. Our anger/attitude/depression cycle does not have to be a terminal condition as it was in Cain’s case.