This weekend my church had a guest preacher named Dr. Dan Allender, a psychologist, who spoke on the topic of intimacy. He preached out of Genesis 1-3 and raised an issue that I had NEVER before considered. In Genesis 3 we read about God’s curse upon Adam and Eve as a result of their sin, a curse that we continue to experience today. For women in particular, our plight is spelled out in verse 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.”
I’ve read this verse many times before, so none of it was news to me. That is, until Dr. Allender made the following comment in regard to the pain of childbearing. He said, “Women cannot avoid this curse simply by not having children.”
Dr. Allender’s words revealed a tremendous deficiency in my prior reading of the curse upon women. My assumption of its scope had been far too small. Whenever I considered the pain of childbearing, my mind immediately flashed forward to the delivery room where I would be in massive pain for a day, and then it would be over. End of story. The second part of the curse, I chalked up to the occasional difficulty in marriage.
But what if I hadn’t gotten married? And what if I can’t have biological children? Does that mean the curse doesn’t apply to me? Are only married women and mothers especially cursed?
Clearly not. The effects of the Fall are cosmic in nature–nothing is left untouched or unbroken. So when the Bible talks about the “curse,” it is not so much an arbitrarily designated punishment in two areas of a woman’s life, but instead a description of the all-encompassing brokenness of her life and relationships.
But how does the curse relate to women who aren’t married and don’t have children? Here, Dr. Allender pointed to the reality that women experience pain and hardship whenever they give birth to new relationships, whether it is a mother-child relationship, or simply a friendship. For women, relationships are both our greatest source of strength as well as our greatest source of agony. Broken relationships with parents, children, spouses, or trusted friends can wound us in ways that we almost never recover from. That is not to say that men are not wounded by their friends or family members, but when I look at my life in comparison with my husband’s, there is a thematic difference between the two of us. For me, the pain of wounded relationships has a recurring role.
Similarly, the broken male-female relationship described by the second part of the curse is not limited to marriage. It can play out in dating relationships, friendships, or even in families. Any time a woman looks to a man for wholeness in an idolatrous way, and any time a man dominates a woman in an oppressive or violent manner, it is a mark of the curse.
Why does this matter? Why bother harping on the curse? First, because it gives a name to the common turmoil of female relationships. From the time we were little girls, our relationships have been under the curse. Rather than feel isolated by or enslaved to those broken relationships, we can be empowered by the knowledge of our common condition.
But more importantly, the whole span of the Bible is the story of God’s undoing of the curse. And we are a part of that story. As daughters of God we are called to serve as agents of redemption in a world plagued by the curse of Genesis 3. Its reversal is ultimately accomplished by Christ, but we still get to be a part of the overturn. Our lives are signposts of hope directing people toward God’s good and perfect future. No matter our life circumstances we are all under the curse, but as Christians we are all part of its redemption as well. Our relationships may test us by targeting our greatest vulnerabilities, but they’re also the destination for our mission of hope in this world.