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.