Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Curse of Genesis 3

King & CountryThis is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “King & Country: The Story That Changes Everything,” coming in summer 2017.

 

Amidst the rapidly spreading wreckage of their once-glorious kingdom, the man and woman stood exposed, ashamed, guilty… and pointing fingers, blaming one another and God, as the perfection and harmony of the garden disintegrated around them. Satan must have been smiling. It was all going according to plan.

The purpose for which humanity had been created—to reign as regents of the divine, to represent the Creator, to extend blessing and life to all creation—had been shattered. A humanity no longer submitting to God could no longer remain on the throne or enjoy the presence of the Creator. And so God’s response to the man and woman’s fall was to seal and ratify the brokenness of the world with the finality of divine judgment—to strip them of their privileged position and cast them away from his presence.

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:16-19)

Read the words of the curse and the first thing you may think is that they only address pregnancy and farming. So, don’t have babies and don’t plant vegetables, and you’ll be fine, right? Wrong. There’s much more going on here than that. The poetry of God’s judgment (and, surprisingly, it is poetry) takes aim at the cultural mandate itself, the very meaning of human existence. The dimensions of the curse applied to Eve in the words, “I will multiply your pain in childbearing” turn the mandate “be fruitful and multiply” inside out. Fruitfulness and multiplication—whether in childbearing or through any of the other ways that the human project expands and improves—will no longer be an unmitigated joy; the task will now be carried out with pain and blood and tears, miscarriages and labor pains and relational turmoil. The curse directed at Adam and his relationship with creation means that the command to “fill the earth and subdue it” will no longer unfold in the context of a tamed, domesticated world eager to serve its human kings; now the ground itself will rebel against its deposed masters, and every inch of dominion will be eked out with the same pain and blood and tears laid on Eve. The world will no longer submit to us, and instead of bringing forth blessing, all creation will be bent on beating humanity back into the dust from whence we came.

The ramifications of the curse cannot be overstated, and extend like a poison into every facet of human life. The command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” is the beating heart of humanity, the driving passion, the instinct below every other instinct, the foundation on which all human personality and relationship and industry and creativity and culture is built. The divine judgment—the just and natural consequence for breaking fellowship with the Creator—was to inject futility into that foundation, pain into that passion, brokenness into that beating heart. Never again—at least, not until the restoration of the human project—would the cultural mandate function properly in the hearts of people. Human relationship, meant to mirror the beauty of the Creator’s own love, would now be twisted into a permanent power struggle, a wrestling and anguished echo of authority lost. Work and labor, designed to be a fountain of joy that would remake the whole world, now would refuse to be domesticated and like a rabid dog would bite the hands of its former masters with futility and frustration. The children of eternity, with hearts designed to live forever, would be stalked every day by entropy, relentlessly dragged down to the dust one wrinkle, scar, and gray hair at a time. Nothing flowing up from the wells of human nature would arrive unpolluted anymore. All ambition would be poisoned by arrogance, every joy would be pierced by pangs of longing, and industry would be choked by idolatry, with sin seeping into every motive. The curse is a death sentence executed not just once, but across every moment of human experience, a slow slaughter by ten thousand cuts. A massive act of divine mercy would be required to fix everything that had gone wrong.

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