15. Genesis 3:16

I. B. 3. continued

c) The Consequences for the Woman (Genesis 3:16)

At this point God turned to the woman, following the chain of temptation back up the line. Death was to be worked out for each creature in the uniqueness of that creature, so death would be worked out for women in what was unique to women: the ability to bear children. Henceforth the bearing of children would bring pain; and the pain indicated here does not stop with the mere physical danger and difficulty and pain attendant on the process of pregnancy and labor. Rather it was motherhood itself that became painful – psychologically, emotionally, and physically. It begins with a dangerous birth, and goes on to the tragedy of raising children who are doomed to death from the beginning, who are doomed to a life of disappointment and hard labor and pain, and who will resist the care of their mother and cause her pain in their turn by their words and their foolishness and their misfortunes.

Every grief that is borne by a child is equally borne by its mother, and I think to a lesser extent by its father. It is the mother who is the primary sharer of the grief of her children. It was mothers who were to be the primary bearers of the grief of the world waiting for the Messiah; and then after He came, serving as signs of that Messiah who came and will come again.

Nonetheless, though the state of motherhood was to be full of pain, the woman was consigned to a continuing desire for her husband, a continuing desire to bear children. In a world dominated by death, it was certain that the husband would take advantage of her weakness to manipulate and rule over her. Inevitably, in a Fallen world, the rule of the husband over the wife would tend to be harsh; and inevitably, in a Fallen world, the rule of the husband over the wife would tend to expand into the rule of men in general over women in general.

The woman was consigned to be a co-dependent in her own slavery, and this co-dependency in death is visible even today every time a woman tries to shield her abusive husband from the legal consequences of his abuse. What else could explain this self-destructive behavior on the part of so many women except that it is the outworking of death in them? Even when husbands are not overtly abusive, it is a rare thing to find a happy marriage, and rare to find a woman who does not tolerate and enable any sort of behavior on the part of her husband.

And young women see it all in their own unhappy families and nonetheless still go on dreaming of their prince charming and the happy marriage waiting for them. I am always amazed at the young single women I know, the girls who want to get married and have a family, and this in spite of having virtually no examples of marriages in which there is any joy or love, in spite of parents who take so little delight in each other that they are virtually strangers who live together. They feed on the images from fiction, from romance novels, from films, from songs and this keeps their hope alive of finding happiness in this world, the world in which there is virtually no happiness at all.

But eventually people realize they are chasing a delusion, and cynicism takes over. The song “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” by Carly Simon expresses powerfully the disaster of modern marriage. The romances  in fiction or film of today are trivial, offering little in the way of joy, but at least they are “realistic”. Indeed it is no wonder that it is becoming the norm in present day America for couples to live together without being married. If they are to end up with the same colorless marriages as their parents, why not just skip the marriage part of it altogether? And despite the shallowness of modern American institutions, the promise and desire for the romance they hardly ever see outside of a movie lures them on into one bad relationship after another. The Creation may have put the desire for marriage into women, but the Fall made them willing to settle for pretty much anything.

I am speaking as cynically as I can about the possibility of having a happy marriage in spite of the fact that my own has been the happiest part of my life in this world, and I hope a cause of joy to my wife and to our children. There are those rare happy marriages, just enough of them that hope doesn’t die completely. And yet there must be a strong warning to all that when a good and happy marriage exists it is truly a miracle, a matter of grace. It is my wish, it is the wish of every parent who is not totally jaded, that their children will find just such a joyous relationship, but they must be warned to proceed cautiously. There are landmines everywhere. It is better indeed to be single than to be entangled in misery, and the churches should be in the vanguard of the prophets warning our culture of the many disguises of death.

But death oozes out beyond the borders of marriage to the whole society. There is no use trying to maintain the pretence that the domination of the world by men is other than an outworking of death.  It is ironic that such a large portion of the American Christian church has taken this result of the Fall, this embodiment of death, and “baptized” it, made it into a moral obligation, made it into a sort of badge of Christian spirituality. This is what the so-called “Christian view of marriage” common among many fundamentalists amounts to: to take a curse and call it a blessing, to take the spring of death and pretend it is a fountain of life. I have been young and now I am old and I have seen few marriages among the many fundamentalist Christians around me that have  been other than a cause for grief. It is a grim mistake in the Church that we have so tightly embraced the idea of male domination  as if it were good.

In our culture marriage has simply become an ugly institution and it is a wonder that the divorce rate is not higher. I do not really think the world is becoming worse; I think there is less cosmetic work done in the present age and the scars and bones are showing through. I wonder if it is not the failure of our institution of marriage that has led to unbelief generally. How can we convince anyone that Jesus is worth knowing when we tell them that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church and husbands are all ugly? Marriage need not be such a cage of death, as I know from my own experience, and as the Scripture indicates when it takes marriage into the deepest part of the mystery of redemption. To recapture a fully biblical concept of marriage we must go to the Redemption rather than to the Fall for our model.

But why would God make death so bitter to the woman? I cannot give an answer to this question, and yet it is through this form of death that redemption was ordained to come for the woman. Though the bearing of children would be filled with pain, yet there was also the hope, with each child, that perhaps that child would be the Messiah, the Hero who would destroy the works of death. Even now, now that the Messiah has come and we are no longer looking for a child who will be the Deliverer for us, there is always that same hope on a smaller scale. At each new conception, each time there is a secret hope in all who can still hope, “Maybe this child will be a great one, a mighty warrior against evil, a prophet who will bring wisdom and light and turn many from their sin.” God has ordained that the pain women are doomed to bear will also be the vehicle of hope. It is the real meaning of these “curses” of the Fall that the pain of death will be made to produce life.

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One Comment on “15. Genesis 3:16”

  1. godanalytics Says:

    A book in and of itself. I’d like to read a whole book on the “outworkings” of this curse alone. And yes, I agree that Fundamentalists have taken the curse and paraded it as a blessing. I was JUST having the conversation about “longing for love” and yet not seeing it as a possibility in real marriages, only in fairy tales- with my 19 year old daughter. But I told her that the joy or the “hope” is in the working out, or the working toward the “ideal” marriage, in being able to attain something better than what her mother was able to attain, or in becoming enlightened in ways that she saw that I was not. That being single is not necessarily the answer either, because your heart might also become preoccupied with the “what if’s.” It’s only AFTER someone gets married that they realize it wasn’t what they were hoping for (or that it is only the beginning of a very long journey).


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