He said to the woman:
I will intensify your labor pains;
you will bear children with painful effort.
Your desire will be for your husband,
yet he will rule over you.
And he said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:
The ground is cursed because of you.
You will eat from it by means of painful labor
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.– Genesis 3:16-18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that,but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:18-25
The fall of man in Genesis 3 has consequences that will continue to reverberate throughout all of history and for all time. Humanity and all of God’s creation have been tainted by sin, and we await the day in which sin and its effects will be no more and the earth will be like Eden once more- peaceful, perfect, and a place where God continuously dwells with His people. (Revelation 22).
In this chapter of Genesis, God pronounces a curse on work. Fruit will now be born from “painful labor all the days of your life” (v18). What does this mean?
“Thorns and thistles” (v19) will be produced and the plants of the field will yield sustenance. This likely refers to plants where the edible portion of the plant, the flower, is surrounded by thorns. The flower will continue to provide sustenance, but it will only be yielded after the painful work of removing the outer layer of protection around the petals. This is a picture of how the earth God created that lived harmoniously- between man and woman, man and creature, man and the ground- will now rebel against one another. Relationships that were once ordered but unified will now rebel against one another. The ground will still produce sustenance, but it will only do so painfully. The relationships that were once beautiful will now be marred by difficulty and pain.
This is such a picture of what it looks like to live in a world that has been tainted by sin. Work was not intended to be toil; relationships were not intended to be broken.
What are some of the “thorns and thistles” you experience in your work? Work relationships that are difficult, work that feels futile or pointless. Maybe you want to be able to grow professionally but lack opportunity. Perhaps you continue to experience the pain of rejection as you search for jobs that don’t pan out. Whatever pain or difficulty you may be experiencing in your laboring, the root of all of it begins in Genesis 3.
For those in Christ, we await the day in which our groans will give way to glory (Romans 8:22-23). All of creation longs for the redemption of all things- for everything that has been marred by the fall to be made whole. Work after the fall means laboring as unto the Lord in our daily tasks (Col 3:23) but with eyes fixed on the hope that is to come.
One of the most important takeaways to remember in regard to our labor in a post-fall world is this: our labor is not the enemy, sin is. Sin has affected our work, but in Christ, we can participate in the redemption of all things (Col 1) and help to bring dignity, flourishing, and the hope of a new-Eden to a fallen world.