The Mark of Grace
But the LORD said to him, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. (Gen 4:15)
How do we respond after a terrifying act of sin? Do we give an eye-for-an-eye, or do we forgive?
Gandhi once said, that if the entire human race practices an eye for an eye retaliation all the time, we will all become blind. Cain had just killed his brother (Gen 4:8). When questioned by God, he lied and defiantly cast another question back at the Divine Creator (4:9). In quick succession, self-deception, trickery and evasion of responsibility come hot after the heels of the world’s first homicide. Can anybody ever tolerate such despicable behavior by Cain? How is it possible to ever pardon a murderer who refuses to admit responsibility for his own wrongdoing? Not many people can forgive. Most may never forget. In the case of Cain, what did God do? Retaliate? No.
God did something absolutely amazing. He demonstrates grace in the midst of sin. He protects Cain by putting a mark on him, to assure him some safety from physical harm. He did it in two ways, a stick-wayand a carrot-way.
God protects Cain by warning all others that any harm on Cain will be reciprocated 7 times. It is like a heroic figure in the movies, warning his enemies not to touch his friend, else revenge will be severe. Even in mafia movies, the gang-leader will offer protection in the form of deadly consequences, against anyone who dares to harm his precious family. By placing a warning to all, God is telling the rest of his creation: “Don’t mess with my Cain. I still love him, in spite of what he has done.” Grace, via the stick-way warns others not to touch Cain, lest they too will be punished more ruthlessly. It is a mark of grace upon Cain. The killer has become a protected refugee.
The Carrot-Way (Explicit)
God also extends his security over Cain through providing a mark. We do not really know what this mark is. It could be a scar. It could be a unique feature in Cain’s physical body. It could also be an instinct weaved into the senses of other creation that automatically detects the special status of Cain, and avoids him. Like fishes that flee the moment the Great White Shark appears, Cain is protected as if he has a repellent on his skin that warts away potential threats. Grace is seen as an explicit statement that Cain, even though he has sinned, is still a child of God. Why do I call it a ‘carrot’ way? It is because grace has been extended not only to Cain, but to all other persons who may come into contact with Cain, people who may want to avenge Abel tragic death. The mark of Cain should not be seen merely as a cursed sign that brings down the family line of Cain. Neither should we view it as a main negative symbol to be avoided at all costs. This mark is essentially a mark of grace, extended not only to Cain, but to the world at large.
Discipline in Grace
When it comes to disciplining a child, sometimes we can become too narrowly focused on the sin that we forget that they are loved by God as well. The Fox hit-series, ‘Prison-Break’ shows us another side of justice from the eyes of prisoners. In the drama, one of the worst villains turns out to be prison guards, rather than the incarcerated ones. The guards were pictured as people who abuse their power, engage in bribery, bully the prisoners and revel in humiliating the prisoners. For them, it is basically thinking that the prisoners are having their just desserts. The guards have such a low view of the prisoners that they cared less about their prisoner well-being than their own self-gratification.
Discipline without grace is never true discipline. This is because true discipline must always be redemptive. When disciplining children, do we do it for the sake of inflicting pain or for the sake of correcting the person in love? Redemptive discipline must be laced with grace. We can learn from the way God dealt with Cain. His way of discipline includes a strong element of protection in the midst of punishment (restlessness, toil, etc). The grace of correcting the wrongdoer means using both the stick-way as well as a carrot-way. Not only must we recognize the sin, and deal with it appropriately, we need to use the opportunity to extend a hand of redemption. It means giving the person a second chance at life. Often, the trouble with society is that people when trying to protect their own skin, ends up hurting others in the process. Like King David, his desire to hide his adultery with Bathsheba from her husband, Uriah ends up in the death of Uriah. It also led to the death of the first son, which David conceived with Bathsheba.
Do not allow any one wrong to lead to more acts of wrong-doing. Address that one wrong with a double-edged strategy, using a stick-way as well as a carrot-way. Recognize the sin. Redeem the sinner. In all of these actions, have an eye to protect and cherish that person, no matter how bad they are. Like how God treated Cain, in the aftermath of the world’s first manslaughter, God extended his grace profoundly through a stick-way and a carrot-way. We too, with the help of the Spirit, can do the same. If not, more.
How can anyone ever forgive a heartless killing? Tough, but the Amish succeeded. After the senseless killing of several children in the Amish town in October 2006, the Amish community captured the attention of the world through their amazing response to the tragedy. The parents of the dead children attended the funeral of the killer, 32-year old Charles Roberts. They supported in every way possible the family of the killer. The Amish community spoke words of forgiveness over and over again. How did they do it? The researchers discovered one significant thing: The Lord’s Prayer was present everywhere they looked.
Many of us known and even memorized the Lord’s Prayer in our hearts. Let the words flow out through our actions. Even when we want to discipline others, remember, forgive one another, as we have been forgiven. You can read more about this amazing community in “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcend Tragedy,” written by Kraybill, Nolt and Weaver-Zercher, published by Jossey-Bass, 2007.
The mark of Cain is less of a physical warning mark, but more of a symbol of grace.