(Note: These ideas are not floated to teach, but to think. If any believer can add to it – whether to contradict or to agree – feel welcome. If these ideas, or the comments on it, helps either your or my understanding to grow, praise the Lord.)
Did you know that God never actually cursed Adam or Eve?1
Gen. 3:14-19 say:
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 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.”
The curse was on the serpent and the ground. Adam and Eve, it seems, were not cursed themselves but happened to suffer negative consequences from living in a cursed world, with a serpent who hates them. God told them what the consequences will be:
Satan will be an enemy of the woman’s descendants, which would cause them a lot of hurt. Women will experience sorrows in childbearing and child rearing. *This probably encompasses a lot more than just painful childbirth – from infertility through crying over an adult child on a self-destructive path, to burying your own offspring, could all be covered in the meaning of this text. But overwhelmingly male Bible translators have hardly ever thought over the potential depth of meaning in this text.
Women will turn (away from God and) to men, and men will rule over them.
Men will, even if their basic needs get met, still experience unhappiness. (“In sorrow shall thou eat.”)
Their work enviroment will give problems instead of the fulfilment and blessings God intended when He called them to “replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” and man to “dress and keep” the garden.2
They will experience mortality on this earth – becoming dust. Perhaps this text even speak of feeling life is futile – life being the period between starting and ending as dust.
You may notice that parts of this curse is very gender specific. The complementarian take on this is is more or less: “Well, God made them for different spheres. Therefore she feels the curse in her man-and-child-oriented sphere, and he in his work sphere.”
What if the truth is bigger than that? Assuming there is such a thing as God-given spheres for each sex, I think a sinful world will seldom keep people in those God-given spheres. For example, if God called women to stay at home and raise children, and men to work, I would expect to see a world history, among non-Christians in all eras since the cave men, to send out women to work and let men stay at home with children. Therefore, I struggle to believe that God was speaking of God-given gender roles here.
Perhaps, instead, God spoke of gendered curses because a cursed society will treat men and women differently?
In a cursed society, women will be the ones that grieve over their children the most, maybe because a cursed society will distance fathers from their children. That could be why, at the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi promise that God will “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers“. That passage may promise to end the curse of a male “role” that distance men from children.
In a cursed society, men will be the ones that experience most of the frustrations of bread-winning, perhaps because a cursed society will not give women the chances to use their God-given creativity and talents profitably everywhere in society.
In short, God did not give gender roles prior to the fall – they are simply not there. So we should not read the gendered predictions of the curse as how God’s great, gender distinct plan got cursed with unpleasantness. Should we, perhaps, read it (partly) as how God’s great plan got cursed with unpleasant gender distinctions?
1 At the time of this story, they were both called Adam (see Gen. 5:2), and the distinction was between “the man” and “the woman”. I call them Adam and Eve for the sake of simplicity.
2 It is possible that God later told the woman to dress and keep the garden too.