Humans want a place to call home. From the time Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s provision and presence in the Garden, we’ve been endlessly wandering, trying to find our way back. Vain in our thinking, homeless yet defiant, we sinfully strive to establish ourselves and build our kingdoms. We look for Eden-like security in this post-Eden world.
Cain is the original example of what exiles do in this predicament. After he murdered Abel, God pronounced a curse upon him, that the earth shall no longer yield its strength to him, and that he should be “a fugitive and a wanderer upon the earth” (Genesis 4:14). Then he settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden, and built a city (Genesis 4:16–17). Cain’s curse was to be hopelessly transient, though he grasped for permanence. He sought to establish himself and his family upon the earth, building a city and yielding descendants who also sought to establish themselves (Genesis 4:18–24). But in all his building, Cain was turning from God and becoming the definition of futility. He had neither a desire nor hope of entering the rest of God.
This would be our destiny too — if not for Jesus. Because we are now in him — part of his body — we are no longer wandering aimlessly, tossed to and fro by the waves of this world, attempting to forge our own security (Ephesians 4:14). Now, in Christ, we are sojourners on this earth, strangers and aliens waiting for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). According to this hope, we follow in the footsteps of Abraham, our father in the faith.
Contrast Cain’s curse with Abraham’s calling. Hebrews 11 describes how Abraham left his homeland, not banished by a curse, but assured by a promise:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8–10)
Cain built a city apart from God, forsaking lasting hope and fabricating fulfillment. Abraham left the city in which he lived and set out for a foreign land, not knowing where he was going. All he had was the promise of God. From our earthly perspective, Abraham looks like a vagabond, carelessly pulling up roots and hitting the road without a plan. And yet the author of Hebrews commends him for having left all that he knew — because the God who called him was worth leaving everything he had built for himself.
Abraham’s faith looked ahead not merely to the Promised Land that the Israelites acquired under Joshua, but to something far better than the confines of Canaan. This promise given to Abraham finds its ultimate fulfillment in the God-man Jesus, who left his heavenly home to sojourn on earth, that we might return with him to God’s provision and presence. Not only did Jesus secure our home in his new creation, but he showed us how to live as new creatures in an old creation world.
As sojourners here, we are still in exile, but we are not like Cain. As opposed to idly wandering toward nothingness and fervently clinging to everything unable to offer lasting rest, we are passing through this present age, purposed for the unending presence of God. We await the hope of a Home which we only experience faint glimpses of now on earth.
Because we have this hope, we are freed from a life that is insecure and “bunkered-down.” Because we await a Kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36), we have the faith-filled precedent to leave “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for [Jesus’s] sake” with the promise that we “will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
Because of our hope, we are freed from a life that is insecure and bunkered-down.
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2–4) and as he says, he will not leave us as orphans (John 14:18). As followers of Jesus, we are called to a hope that abandons the present comforts of shallow security in exchange for eternal security — everlasting life. This is the hope we embrace before a watching world and hold out in love to a wandering world . . .
“for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)