“Cosmic Homelessness”:
Cain, the Pattern of Exile & Grace

The theme of “exile” permeates the Biblical story.

What is exile?

To be exiled is to be cast out, driven away, a wander, alone.

The pattern is set, of course, with Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden of Eden.

But that same theme is reenacted over and over again, beginning immediately with Adam and Eve’s eldest son Cain in Genesis 4:12-17:
Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 
And the LORD said, “What have you done? … You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”
And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.
Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 
However you interpret the “primeval” chapters of Genesis 1-11—literal or parabolic—the meaning is the same: the world, as the title of Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s book reads, is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”

We are not at home.

Tim Keller puts it like this,
The Bible says that we have been wandering as spiritual exiles ever since. That is, we have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings.
It is no coincidence that story after story contains the pattern of exile.
The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home (The Prodigal God, 96-98). 

There is, however, a strange grace haunting both stories:

God’s grace to Adam and Eve took the form of sewing them clothes because they felt they needed them.
God’s grace to Cain takes the form of guaranteeing him protection because he feels he needs it (John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part One, 75). 
This grace (of course) ought to surprise us. Shock us, in fact.

In the midst of his sentencing—where guilt is beyond question—the Judge (though just) suddenly suspends the gavel, descends the bench, and (like a father) meets His defendants’ deepest needs.

To the first: “I will clothe you.”

To the second: “I will protect you.”

It is almost as if God cannot help himself.

Moreover, this grace is a pointer—a road sign of sorts—not only toward God’s gracious character itself but of the ultimate grace found in Jesus.

“He came,” as Keller explains, “to bring the human race Home. … He took upon himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could be welcomed into our true home” (101-102).


Michael O said...

My favorite phrase is: "It is almost as if God cannot help himself."

Michael Blankenship said...

Brought tears to my eyes thinking of my own wanderings from God and his simple response: "Do you need protection son?"