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Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 28 August 2009

"CURSED IS THE GROUND FOR YOUR SAKE…"

by Jim Jordal

In charging Adam the consequences of his sin, God announced (Gen. 3:17, NKJV) that the earth would from henceforth be cursed "for your sake." That’s a strange way of putting it, since a curse is usually a pronouncement against someone’s welfare rather than a proclamation in their favor. So what did God mean?

Several other translations render the phrase "because of you" rather than "for your sake," creating what I think to be a vast difference in the long-term meaning of this passage. The first phrase implies a one-time punishment by God in retribution for sin, while the second connotes a long-term process of human redemption and reclamation through toil and suffering.

Because of the degrading, destructive power of sin—especially when people had too much leisure time-- God considered it necessary that humans should struggle for their livelihood in the "sweat of their brow." Existing in an endless battle with weeds, vermin, drought, fire, and flood was better than living in a utopia of leisurely plenty. It was good and necessary that humans should struggle because in the contest they would find protection from the immediate social consequences of sin.

Think about Sodom and Gomorrah, the Tower of Babel and the waywardness of an Israel recently delivered from 430 years of Egyptian slavery. As soon as the people achieved freedom of any kind they turned quickly to idolatry, oppression, and egotism. And so it remained for the next 4,000 years as Pharaohs, kings, emperors, tyrants, lords, dictators, and even presidents formed empires and domination systems designed with one purpose—to allow the few to rule over the many. The few legitimized their rule through religion and defended it with power—all the while living sumptuously on wealth derived (stolen) from the people.

We know the benefits of this system for rich and powerful exploiters at the top of the income pyramid, but what about the masses of common people who exist at the base in extended toil and poverty? What do they gain? According to the world’s values, nothing but a mean brutish life culminated by early death. But according to God’s values, they gain the great inner riches that accompany a life of faith, hope, love, and perseverance. To the world, this sort of faith is foolishness, but to God it constitutes great wealth.

If we define sin as the many broken relationships between God, human beings, and nature, then we begin to glimpse what God had in mind by cursing the earth. Scores of scriptures illustrate how riches and an easy life detract us from God, and hundreds more show God’s definite favoritism for the poor, or "preferential option for the poor," as liberation theology would say. So suffering helps unite victims of exploitation with their Maker, with themselves, and with nature, besides keeping them too busy to fall into the sins common to sloth, idleness, and excessive prosperity.

Excessive leisure is not a state to be desired under present conditions of universal sin. Without dawn-to-dusk heavy labor humankind would fall into debauchery far worse than that so seductively flaunted by the media. Life on earth would degenerate into a cesspool of lust, idolatry, murder, theft, and exploitation of everyone not possessed with sufficient power to protect themselves.

Is there any answer, or is the human race destined for a sad ending resulting from egregious, uncontrolled sin? The apostle Paul helped answer this question when he declared, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Sin truly does kill—in the flesh, in society, and in the spirit; just as Christ brings life in these same realms.

And in the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, repeated in Hebrews 8, we find God’s promise for His people of a new paradigm of love, compassion, and right relationship with God, humans, and nature to replace the Old Testament (Covenant) of legalism, fear, punishment, and death. God’s laws concerning justice and right relationships are not thus replaced, but are now honored because they have become part of our inner being, to be obeyed not because we have to, but because we want to. That’s called the internalization of values, and that’s what we need today so that God can eventually rescue us from the "curse of the earth" that began with Adam and will end with Christ’s kingdom.