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  • Writer's pictureEthan Hardin

Redemptive Curse: Productive Frustration

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

This discussion guide interacts with the corresponding devotional video, Death and All of His Friends Session 4 - Relational Vandalism. Use this post to facilitate discussion and interaction with the Scriptures as you seek God together through his Word.

Inspired by a similar graphic from When Helping Hurts, the picture below paints way that sin fractures the fabric of relationships. If we, as a church family, believe in this grand scale of sin, then our view of reconciliation must be up to the task of addressing it all.

So here’s God’s response to sin. Look closely and observe. As he deals with each party involved, how does he address the fractures? What is his plan to fix this thing?

Genesis 3:14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

There’s a lot of prickly things here in this announcement from God, is their not? There’s this business of the wounded victor who will defeat the serpent at great personal cost. There's the idea of marital strife for Adam and Eve ("desire" is not a positive word, as we will explore later; see Gen. 4:17). There's the proliferation of thorns and thistles and the return of humanity to the dust from which it came. But hidden in plain sight are incredible promises (bear with me).

Anyone think it’s a bit weird that God cursed childbirth and farmwork with pain? (I don’t think there’s much debate about which is literally the greater pain!) Why these things?

"To each of the trespassers God speaks a word which involves a life function and a relationship." - Victor Hamilton

For human flourishing to continue (which it does) it will do so with a greater degree of dependence on God - both in life and relationship. It's no surprise to us, we who live in the fallen world. Isn't life hard? Aren't relationships challenging? And yet humanity goes on, sustained by the grace of God. But what is all this challenge and hardship for? We turn to the New Testament to see the endgame of all this pain. Indeed, to Paul, these are labor pains - bringing about something new. Paul joins these dual frustrations (childbirth, earth) in this fascinating passage in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

To Paul, whatever this curse did in Genesis 3, it brings about a new birth. It is a hopeful curse. That's an oxymoron, isn't it? A hopeful curse? Isn't a crucified God also an oxymoron? Such is the paradoxical mystery of Yahweh. Paul is claiming that God's cursing of the earth has been like the pains of childbirth, that this cursed soil is giving birth to... what? The children of God! Indeed, it seems the whole cosmos has participated, labored, and at last, celebrated the birth of new humanity - humans reconciled to God through Christ. The sinful nature original to Adam (first man) is being replaced by the divine nature original to Jesus (the second man, 1 Cor. 15:45). This new nature is the fruit of the biblical narrative, of our salvation history, of God's work in Jesus Christ.

So the fulfillment of the birth announcement that is threaded into Genesis 3 is Jesus and his unfolding and glorious character in our lives. That's God's answer to sin. The Deceiver does not have the final say. God does. And those of us who will return to God through Christ find his challenging words as beautiful as new birth. We may well call this "sanctification." The New Testament writers speak so often of the hardships of birthing this new and Christlike nature. Peter compares it to smelting (1 Pet. 1:18-19), James to maturing (James 1:2-4), and the Hebrews author to athletics and parental discipline (Heb. 12:1-12). We will dive into this more in a later session, but suffice it to say that here, as we ruminate on the imagery of childbirth, we begin to grasp this truth: God's curse is redemptive.

Maybe the best thing to do is slow down and really soak in this challenging text for a moment. Before discussing or journaling about it, why don't we try an activity called Lexio Divina. I've got a short video here explaining this repetitive and meditative reading of the text in order to attend to God's presence in it. Give it a watch and revisit Genesis 3:14-19 at the service of Lexio Divina. Then, after this meditative prayer-time with the text, journal your observations and discuss the following question.


EXCURSUS: an extra exploration

Is the idea of a cursed creation weird?

And what about a new creation?

If you are hung up on the idea that sin has effects broader than human failures, maybe these two observations can help. If you need your imagination engaged to wrap your head around it, why don't we revisit Tolkien? Do you notice how Mordor is physically scarred by sin, manifesting evidence of the evil warped it? Maybe it's hard to see creation as cursed, since so much of it still bears witness to the glory of God. Tolkien helps the imagination a bit with this poignant imagery from The Return of the King.

And if it isn't your imagination, but your sense of the Bible's description of this topic that needs help, here goes. Since the Fall (Gen. 3) Creation has been under curse, a productive frustration akin to childbirth (Rom. 8:20-1, we drew out above). The curse of the earth (Gen. 3:17-8) mirrors the curse of the earthlings, from which they were drawn and from which they return (Gen. 3:19). The cursed existence of creation indicts humanity (Gen. 4:11), witnesses against humanity (Ex. 30:19, Rom. 1:20), and yet partners in (Rom. 8:22) and even celebrates humanity’s redemption (Is. 55:12). The Creation community is co-revelatory, pointing not to its glory, but to God’s (Job 12:7-9). Thus, as Creation participates in the curse, so it participates in the resurrection. Creation will be renewed, with elements of discontinuity (2 Pet. 3:10, Is. 11:6-9) and of continuity (Is. 66:18-22). This New Heavens and New Earth (Is. 66:22, Rev. 21:1) will be radically different (Rev. 21:4) and strikingly familiar (Is. 66).

Creation is thus co-cultivated by God and by humanity (Gen. 1:28-30), culminating in the garden city of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-22:6). Creation is subject to human rule, for humans are coregent with God (Ps. 8). Humanity’s cultural mandate forges the partnership modeled in gardening (Gen. 2:15). Therefore, Creation is responsive to human thriving as well as human abuse (Num. 35:33). As chief members of the Creation community, the story of Creation is ultimately tied up in the story of human redemption (Rom. 8:21). Thus, Creation awaits its own new order (Rev. 21:4-5) alongside humanity, a future both unimaginable and native.

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