(This year, I am intentionally working my way systematically (again) through Holy Scripture. As a part of that I am writing short rough notes as I journey through Scripture. These are random, fluid thoughts. These are not formal essays or written sermons. There are no citations and I often convey the thoughts of others that I have read or encountered. These have become a part of my own theology and clearly I stand on the shoulders of others to see more clearly.)
Genesis 4:15–16 (RSVCE): And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
I have always viewed the mark that God placed on Cain after he was cast from society as one of punishment and stigma. He did something horrible and a part of his suffering would be to carry the sign of it with him everywhere. He could never escape it. Like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter Cain would carry the sign of his sin so all would know and all would continue to punish him for it.
It seems like a mark was unnecessary. After all t was just Cain and his immediate family on the earth. Exactly who is it that Cain thinks is going to harm him? But let's not overthink things and throw the baby out with the bath water.
The sign is not one of punishment. It is a sign of God's protection. It's a mark of sonship that says this child belongs to me and you shall not harm him. Once again in Genesis God shows that there is no such thing as sin with impunity but there is forgiveness.
This past Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. I thought of all the baptism's I have witnessed through the years. A child of God passing from death to life through the cleansing waters. And at the end of the Baptism in the Episcopal church the child of God is anointed with oil and "marked as Christ's own forever." This is comforting to me and I hope that it is for you too. It's not just comforting, it gives me strength. Even in my sin, as I turn to God, God is there waiting to remind me and all around that I belong to him.
Maybe the story of Cain is a baptism of sorts.