God’s Strategy for Discipline: Dealing With Cain


The story of God’s dealing with Cain (Genesis 4) is instructive for how parents and school leaders can query students to reveal the heart issues behind discipline problems.  God’s discipline involves the method of simple questions to reveal Cain’s motives, choices, actions, and their consequences. God asks Cain five different questions before He announces the consequences of Cain’s choices. These five questions are instructive for any parent who seeks to get to the bottom of an issue.


Question #1: “Why are you angry?

God does not start with the deed itself, the killing of his brother. He starts with the emotions He is seeing on Cain’s face.  In other words, the feelings are clues to the deeds.

Start with naming the emotions you are seeing your children display and simply ask about them.  “I notice you are very angry—why is that?”


Question #2: Why is your face downcast?” (Genesis 4:6)

Emotions are connected to one another.  Here God notices that in addition to Cain’s anger, Cain’s face was “downcast;” he was sad about something, but not for killing his brother, as we shall see.

Would we call this depression? When we see sadness or depression in students, we need to get involved and find out what is going on in their world.


Question #3: “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” (4:6).

Amazingly, God has not yet gotten to the deed! He is tugging at the roots of the deed. As in so many issues with our children, the root issue is one of acceptance. God connects doing what is right with being accepted.  Then, He defines the correct choice of behavior and adds a warning about the dangers of choosing wrongly

One of the most important duties of parents is to always be framing reality for their children, explaining to them the spiritual laws of this world and the consequences of breaking them.


Question #4: “Where is your brother Abel?” (4:9)

A simple question about a matter of fact can reveal where our children’s hearts really are!


Question #5: “What have you done?” (4:10)

At last, God gets to the deed itself.  There is a profound strategy here: a question about Cain’s emotions led to the root issue of acceptance, which was the motivation behind the killing of his brother. It is a victory for truth when parents can capture the whole ugly root system—motives, choices, actions, and consequences behind their children’s choices.

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