God is into groups. He delivers the Israelites out of Egypt and appoints them “a kingdom of priests.” 1 Peter 2.9 calls believers a priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.
Cain is the original loner. Having eliminated his brother, sassed God, he becomes a “restless wanderer” (Gen 4.12), and the first one to build a gated compound … to guard against foes, real and imagined. His view of himself—a lone individual, like a comet flying through dark space, with his very own personal destiny—is the self-concept that dominates the world. By default, we all seem to hold a basic, unselfconscious view that we are all alone in the world, that our paths may intersect with others, or even run parallel for a while, but that each of us is on a separate, solo orbit, that my destiny is ultimately only my own. That level of disconnected, atomized sense of self would be very native to the line of Cain and Lamech. This sense of aloneness drives the individual toward anxiety, achievement and power seeking as attested to in the catalogue of attainments attributed to Cain’s descendents in Gen 4. We are all Cain’s descendants.
But everywhere in the Bible, believers are called to find their identity in the larger workings of God through his people. The tribes of Israel, the clans, the land they were to never sell, the kingdom of priests they were to become: all of this requires a very different sense of self than the solo self native to our culture. The church in Acts 2, declaring the wonders of God in multiple tongues, reversing Babel; the holy temple in which we are to be a living stone; the priesthood of which we are to be one of the priests; the holy nation of which we are citizens; the people of God of which we are to be 1 person: these are how we are to think of ourselves. This is actually a revolutionary shift of something deeply held inside of us.
A child reaches maturity when he sees himself as a part of a family; then, a part of a clan; then, a nation; then, eventually, “my brother’s keeper,” toward all of humanity. We, too, reach maturity when we overthrow our narcissistic, individualistic, selfish, anxiety-driven, ambition-driven, lonely sense of destiny, and take on the identity God gives to the company of the redeemed, the tribe of priests, sent out into the world to declare “the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 4.9 ESV).