The Mark of Cain

Thinking out loud.

Sitting on my deck thinking. Thinking.

What am I?

A human being?

Yes. But what more can be said?

A pastor?

This is what I do, but not really what I am.

To cease vocation is not to cease being.

What are you?

A human too.

A Christian?

Perhaps, but that reflects a religious choice.

Can we come closer to the essence of being?

Can we be more basic?

What are you?

You are a son or a daughter.

That much I know.

Perhaps you are a brother or sister. A husband or wife. A mother or father.

These are relational terms.

Humans are human by a relational ontology.

To be human is to be something in relation to other humans.

Humans are intrinsically relational creatures.

As such the quality of human life is chiefly determined by the quality of human relationships.

Excessive solitude often leads to madness because as an isolated individual a person is deprived of the context in which they know and define themselves.

The person alone becomes the sole object of their universe and a mind obsessed with one thing is the road to madness.

Western individualism cannot adequately answer the question, What am I?

The attempts to define the self individually is much of the history of Western philosophy.

How are we to understand the self?

Descartes: As a thinking self (mind)

Jefferson: As an autonomous self (rights)

Kant: As a legislating self (duty)

But what does the revelation of Scripture say about understanding the self?

Self is a child of God.

“For we are indeed God’s offspring.”

(From Phainomena by the Greek poet Aratus as quoted by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:28)

Self is a child of God. Either estranged or reconciled.

Child is a relational term. A child is not a child on the basis of mind or rights or duty — but on the basis of relationship.

When the estranged human child is reconciled he is brought back into the family of God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.” -1 John 3:1

For the reconciled child to experience human life as God intended, the child must learn to love the family of God.

If this love is entirely absent, the child is still estranged and not reconciled.

“By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the person who does not love his brother.”
-1 John 3:11

I am a child of God. But I am not an only child. To think of myself as an only child is to misunderstand God and myself.

The one who withdrawals from practical care for others is somehow related to Cain, the murderer of his brother. The one who will not practically concern himself with the well-being of his brother bears the incriminating mark of Cain as an estranged child condemned to a life of lonely wandering.

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother…Everyone who who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that know murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, the he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth.” -1 John 3:11f

We either bear the marks of Christ in self-sacrificing love

Or we bear the mark of Cain in self-justifying narcissism

The marks of Christ are the wounds of healing love

The mark of Cain warns people to stay away

The marks of Christ bring reconciliation

The mark of Cain increases our isolation

I am my brother’s keeper

Self-help is ultimately no help

The end of narcissism is nihilism

A life centered on self leads to the incriminating mark of Cain

A life centered on Christ leads to giving yourself away

To save myself I must save someone else

To help myself I must help someone else

To love myself I must love someone else

When a rich man helps a poor man two men are rescued

One from the black hole of poverty

The other from the black hole of self

No man is an island, entire of itself.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
-John Donne

What am I?

I am a child of God.

I am not an only child.

I am my brother’s keeper.



The quote of the day comes from the 2nd Century Christian apologist Tertullian. In commenting on the pervasive presence of Christians in the Roman Empire only a hundred years after the birth of Christianity he said:

“We have the same kind of life as you. Without taking ourselves out of the forum and the marketplace, without renouncing the baths and the boutiques and the shops and the inns and all the other places of commerce, we live in this world with you. We arrived only yesterday, and already we fill the earth as well as all that is yours; cities, towns, municipalities, fields of harvest, and even camps, tribes, the councils, the palace, and the senate. We have left you only your temples.”

May it ever be so. The only kind of Christianity that can turn the world upside down is a Christianity that is in the world.

This world is the natural habitat of Christianity. May we be in the world as those who bear the marks of Christ’s reconciling love.