The “Curse of Eve”—Is Pain Our Punishment? Part 2 by Stacia Guzzo

In the first part, I posed the question about whether or not the so-called “Curse of Eve” could be interpreted alternatively from the traditional understanding of Genesis 3:16a (the result of Eve’s disobedience being the punishment of painful childbirth for all generations of women). I considered an alternate interpretation of “sorrow” rather than “pain” for the verse, a lens through which the punishment could then be seen as impacting the God-human relationship rather than as a condemnation of pain.

I would like to further examine the consequences of this consideration. What if we were bold enough to interpret both the punishments of Adam and Eve (toiling over the land and pain in childbirth, respectively) as symbolic for all of humankind—and, furthermore, as speaking specifically of the God-human relationship? After all, men certainly aren’t the only ones who have toiled in the fields to bring forth food (I say this specifically thinking of a female farmer who lives down the road from me, and remembering her 10-14 hour days laboring over her harvests). Nor are all women subject to painful childbirth; in fact, the documentary Orgasmic Birth specifically devotes its study to women who find the experience of birth both sensual and ecstatic.  If interpreting the Scriptural “curses” as literal and final, these not-so-exceptional exceptions would seem to contradict God’s decree.  Yet when interpreting the punishments as indicative of a schism in relationship between God and humankind, the implications can be more clearly understood.

Could it be possible that “toiling in the fields” was meant to examine the part humans would have to play in taking care of themselves? In Eden, all was provided for them because their relationship with God was intimate and immediate. But once they were removed from that immediacy, their need to participate in their own sustenance would be a reminder that the immediacy with God was no longer there. God was still with them, but now somewhat removed. Likewise with the “pain of childbirth”—each generation would be born without the perfect God-human relationship of paradise. They would never know such intimacy while on earth. This, indeed, makes childbirth “sorrowful” for the mother who once knew such deep closeness with her Creator.

The symbolism of schism between God and humankind is resonated throughout the stories of Genesis; continually, the stories echo the cycle of the schism widening and then being healed, of woundedness, repentance, and forgiveness. The story of Adam and Eve begin the cycle, because Adam and Eve begin the story of the God-human relationship.  And in the Christian tradition, this cycle is completed in the New Testament as the schism is healed in the promise of resurrection. The future is no longer cursed by punishment; rather, it carries the promise of hope. The distance between humankind and the Divine is not permanent. We will not carry that sorrow forever.

Augustine of Hippo (rarely touted as a supporter of a feminist view) even seems to support this line of thought, writing:

Although her bearing her children in pain is fulfilled in this visible woman, our consideration should nevertheless be recalled to that more hidden woman. For even in animals the females bear offspring with pain, and this is in their case the condition of mortality rather than the punishment of sin. Hense, it is possible that this be the condition of mortal bodies even in the females of humans. But this is the great punishment: they have come to the present bodily mortality from their former immortality. (Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichaeans 2.19.29)

And in this case, he does bring up a good point. Are other creatures condemned to pain during childbirth as a result of Eve’s disobedience as well? It seems ridiculous to think so. Yet many animals will go through pain during childbirth. Physiologically (and I say this from experience), the act of childbirth is one which can rarely be considered comfortable—just by the very nature of the physical mechanics that are transpiring.

Futhermore, one must consider the question: why would God condemn a woman to pain during childbirth, knowing that he commanded her previously to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28)? That would be a cruel act of an omniscient God, and certainly doesn’t seem consistent with the theological arc of Genesis. Later, God then promises to Sarah, a descendant of Eve, the following:  “I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Genesis 17:16). How could a curse be involved in a blessing?  Certainly in the Christian tradition, it seems unlikely that Son of God would be born through an act that has been cursed by God.

Having experienced a difficult, long, and medication-free birth in my own home, I know firsthand that birth can be painful. Yet pain does not have to equate to suffering; think of the “pain” that one experiences training for a difficult athletic feat, working countless hours on a project, or staying up all night with a sick child. All of these can test our sense of physical limitation and comfort. And while I experienced pain while giving birth to my son, I also felt wholly embraced and enfolded in the love of my Creator. There was a deep sense of reverence and stillness in the room. And so, despite the pain, I still can find no sense of punishment in my own spiritual reflections on the event.  None. To even consider it just doesn’t jibe with my personal experience of God in my life. And in the end, that is the strongest argument for my own heart.

I also want to emphasize that these considerations aren’t meant to deconstruct Scriptural integrity in any way, but rather to challenge those who believe in it to consider what they read in a new light. My purpose in writing stems from my own rootedness in the Christian faith, and I write it in full appreciation and respect for my own groundedness in the Christian perspective. I hope that it can inspire friendly and constructive discussion despite its controversial content.

Stacia Guzzo is a homesteading theologian/stay-at-home mother who received her Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Loyola Marymount University and is currently working toward a Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. Stacia has been a teacher and speaker in the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese and has served as managing editor for Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. Her areas of interest include embodiment theology, ecological justice, food ethics, and the spirituality of birth. Stacia’s perspective offers unique insight into the raw, fresh theological undertones of every day life; coming from a Jesuit background, she embraces the Ignatian attitude of “finding God in all things.” In addition to her theological studies, Stacia currently works part-time as a doula, childbirth educator, and apiarist.

Categories: Bible, Christianity, Scripture, Spirituality, Theology, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , ,

5 replies

  1. I’ve read the Old Testament myths, including the various interesting stories in Genesis, and I must admit that it’s the old, often misogynistic men who wrote words they put in their god’s mouth that led me to take refuge with the Goddess. But we are all her children! So I keep hoping that people who take literary what is written in their holy book will learn to see these stories as myths and metaphors and not keep thinking that a jealous, punitive god would require women to bear our children in pain. The pain is physical. It should not be psychological. Good for you to think about these issues!


  2. If I am understanding correctly Stacia are you associating a woman’s pain during childbirth, because Eve disobeyed God’s word and was removed from the paradise she originally lived in? It’s hard to say if she wouldn’t have still gone through some pain giving birth, if she had followed God’s word. However, I don’t see this pain as a curse or punishment. Only that woman has been given this responsibility, not man. We could argue if Adam and Eve obeyed Gods word, our world would not be in the Chaos that it is in, so therefore I can understand what you saying here..

    “Likewise with the “pain of childbirth”—each generation would be born without the perfect God-human relationship of paradise. They would never know such intimacy while on earth. This, indeed, makes childbirth “sorrowful” for the mother who once knew such deep closeness with her Creator”.

    It doesn’t have to be sorrowful at this point it’s up to man to nurture, feed and protect the child, so the child will grow in hopes to wanting to reach that paradise again at least in death, of how one chooses to live their life. However man has created sorrowfulness as each generation has developed, because of war, rape and capitalism and frankly these are reasons none of us will ever know, a God human relationship unless we choose to sacrifice ourselves to him. Maybe its only a myth to most I don’t know, but its been implied so many times that Eve is to blame, she is not to blame, they both are to blame. Like the reason most people are not given a job is because they didn’t follow instructions during the interview or testing, just as they were told. God sees it in the same way, because Adam and Eve didn’t follow his word, we now all have to live with pain among other things and not in paradise.


  3. I was touched by the idea that the birthing mother once knew closeness with her creator–I would add especially if she understood God as a woman or even as a woman who gave birth the the universe.

    As for the Virgin Mary, many traditions agree with you, she could not have given birth to the Son of God in accursed pain. This is why it is asserted that she was Virgin before, after, and during the birth–which obviously in that case was not a vaginal birth.


  4. I really enjoyed both parts of your post. Though I am not religious, and know only very basic, watered down versions of some Biblical stories, I found myself agreeing with your analysis of the curse of Eve. Though I am not (yet) a mother, and am not sure if I ever will be, I have thought a lot about my relationship to my body in thinking about childbirth, and my relationship to pain. You see, I am a masochist, so I quite enjoy (certain types of) pain. I often find myself wondering if I’ll someday be one of those women who find the experience orgasmic, and only time will tell. But I refuse to believe that any God would punish women to pain in childbirth, when it is fully possible to love, enjoy, and seek pain for pleasure.


  5. I enjoyed your post. It was also great experience to me to join the part of the ritual. Through the conference, I could leave behind my burden, full of anxiety as a graduating M. Div student. Before I applied to the scholarship for PANAAWTM, I was hesitant to go there due to heavy load of assignments during the spring break. However, it was blessing to attend the PANAAWTM conference. Many Asian and Asian American sisters’ sharing of their lives encouraged me to have hope and confidence. It was also good to talk to you and had chance to know about you more.:)


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