It’s not easy being human. We face challenges every day, and have to use our resiliency and tenacity to figure out how we’re going to get through them. And while we’re striving to be great partners, children, parents, workers, siblings, and citizens, it can be easy to look back and ask, “Why?” Why did that happen? Why this diagnosis? Why this unemployment? Why this sadness? Why…? Why…? Why…?
One of the common responses to these “Why…? questions involves a few complex texts that we find in Genesis 3.
At the opening of Genesis 3, the man and the woman have already reunited and become “one flesh,” yet the man is nowhere to be seen. A snake then approaches the woman, and lies to her about why God told them not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. She believes the snake, eats from the tree, and hands the man some of the fruit for him to eat as well. They then “see clearly,” realize they are naked, and sew fig leaves together to cover themselves (Genesis 3:1-7).
The man and the woman then hear God walking in the garden (He’s taking an afternoon stroll) and they hide, so God calls to them. They show themselves, and after some questioning, God realizes that they have eaten from the tree in the middle of the garden (v. 8-13).
What follows is a series of indictments from God directed toward the snake, the woman, the man, and the land, which are often titled, “The Curse of Adam and Eve,” or just “The Curse of Eve.” If we read closer, though, we find that God never actually curses Adam and Eve.
In verses 14 and 15 God “curses” (arar) the snake with a variety of maladies, and puts enmity between the snake and the woman. But in verse 16, when God addresses the woman, He simply “speaks” (amar) to her. Then again in verses 17 through 19, God speaks (amar) to the man, explaining that the ground is now cursed (arar) because of him, but God never curses the man.
The difference between a curse and a punishment is that a curse changes the foundational properties and qualities of the recipient — God removes the snakes legs, making it slither on its belly for the rest of its life, and God fills the previously fertile land with weeds and thistles, making it difficult to cultivate. God doesn’t change the man and the woman — he makes their lives more difficult, but their beings and their essence does not change as a result of their punishment.
For centuries, interpreters, scholars, and even some of the Church Fathers read this text, and assumed that God cursed the man and the woman. Readers call this text “The Fall.” Although Genesis 3 never mentions a “Fall,” it does mark the first time that God punishes humanity, and boots us out of a good land. We must remember, though, that while Genesis 3 may be the first time God punishes His people and exiles them from the land, it certainly isn’t the last time.
Genesis 3 gives us an archetype, a storyline, for what continues to happen over and over again throughout the biblical text and throughout our lives. And what we see each time this happens is God remaining with humanity, loving us, caring for us, cleaning up our messes, and continually working all things toward the good. We may no longer reside in Eden, but that does not mean that we are cursed. And we may have received a few punishments (we’ll get into the details of those tomorrow), but for now I want to encourage us to consider what it would mean for us to live as a free, uncursed, and beloved people, who still make mistakes.
We have a lot more exploring to do in Genesis 3 over the next couple of days, but for now, can we rest in the knowledge that we were never cursed? That while sin is real and active and tempting, it has never mitigated the love that God has for us? And that after the gigantic moment in the biblical text, in which God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden, we find God (only six verses later) telling them that they have the power to choose whether or not to sin (Gen. 4:7). That doesn’t sound like a cursed life to me; rather, it sounds like a life of strength, power, agency, and hope. Today, may we embrace the God who withheld the curse from us and who continues to tells us that we are beloved, that we are strong, and that nothing can separate us from His love.