The Christian and Creation, Chapter 2: The Curse

In my previous article we discussed my eschatological views; specifically, as it pertains to the role that creation will play in the final events. It is my belief that, when the Lord returns, the earth itself will be renewed and restored (after a purging/cleansing fire), transformed into a redeemed cosmos as heaven and earth become one. Here we will dwell with God in our newly resurrected bodies, glorifying Him and enjoying the “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). This is founded upon God’s initial creational intent, as he declares it good and commissions humanity to reign or “have dominion” as his image bearers.

If you haven’t read my previous article, I encourage it, for in it I discuss more than just my viewpoints. It is confessional, as I admit to my prior struggles with consistently articulating and defending my position. It is my hope that this series will open a door of dialogue through which we can discuss and critique our views in the spirit of Christian brotherhood. My desire isn’t so much to persuade as it is to encourage understanding—for myself and the reader—when it comes to our ultimate hope. This seems in alignment with Paul’s desire in Ephesians 1:18 that we might, “have the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”

When we ended our previous discussion, humanity was crowned with glory and honor and given dominion over God’s new world (Psa. 8:4-6). Still, the question lingered: will man choose to obey God and submit to his prohibition against the tree of knowledge? Or, will he rebel and attempt to usurp the throne?

Who is Going to Reign?

While we may be familiar with the story of the fall, it’s important to remember the nature of the temptation itself. There are two promises given by sin and Satan; one is implied, and the other is spoken.

You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 4-5).

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (v. 6).

The promise of pleasure and wisdom are what drive Adam and Eve to partake of the tree and refuse the provision of God within the garden. This is summed up in the statement: “You will be like God.” They can have the goods without worrying about the God. Of course, the great irony of this entire story is that they are already like God. They are created in the image of God, reigning and declaring his goodness and character to all of creation. Yet Satan promises reign without restraint. He convinces Adam and Eve that God is prohibiting them rather than providing for them; that he only blesses to a degree, reserving the best for himself. Satan now has them convinced that the Lord is holding them back. If they would simply give into their desire—he contends— they would truly be free from the shackles of the sovereign God.

All of this is key to understanding the entire discussion about the Christian and creation. Sin isn’t simply partaking of a prohibited pleasure; rather, sin is the rejection of God as king. It is to refuse his provision and fellowship. As Sproul writes, sin is an act of “cosmic treason.” God granted humanity dominion in the new world—they were kings and queens—but they chose tyranny. Their sin is a betrayal, not only of God’s law, but of their vocation as image bearers; they have spurned the sacred commission of cultivating paradise.

Hopefully we are beginning to see why this world is so broken: it is a world forsaken by its true governors and handed to the prince of darkness. Humanity invited the darkness in, and the resulting chaos and heartache that comes in the aftershock is the tension that creates the entire Biblical narrative.

Cursed is the Ground Because of You 

In our previous article we mentioned that man’s unique creation (from the dust of the ground) generates an intimate connection with the earth. Man is intrinsically intertwined with the rest of creative order—being created out of the ground itself—and thus his choices will directly affect the ground from which he came. We now witness this in God’s curse upon Adam:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:17-19)

Notice, Adam isn’t the only one who suffers because of his sin, but the earth itself. Creation suffers from second-hand sin: it has committed no transgression, and yet must suffer from the ruinous decision of its ruler. Just as the people of a kingdom are blessed or suffer due to the choices of their king, so too the kingdom of creation suffers from the choices of the original couple. This is important for us to remember for, whatever happens to the sons and daughters of God—for good or ill—will impact the rest of creation. Our destiny is intertwined.

As we progress through Genesis, we see this continued fracturing of God’s new world:

“This misuse of the power of the imago Dei is manifest first of all in disobedience toward the creator (Gen. 3), which then blossoms into a pattern of violence and fractured relationships among people (Gen. 4). These consequences of the original transgression escalate in each generation that follows, until violence, which is fundamentally interhuman violation, fills the earth. Indeed, human violence or bloodshed, which has corrupted the earth, is named in Genesis 6 as the reason for the flood (v. 11-13).”[1]

We witness the same cycle once again with Cain: he sins, and creation suffers (Gen. 4:12). Interestingly, you can hear it in the hopes and expectations of Lamech, Noah’s father, when he names his son:

And called his name Noah saying, ‘Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Gen. 5:29).

Of course, the culmination of this is experienced within the flood narrative in which God’s judgment is brought—not only on humanity—but upon the entire creation due to man’s corrosive, moral decline (Gen. 6:11-12). The animals, plant life, and the entire globe succumb to the destructive influence of man’s sin. Why is that? The animals never sinned against God; plants don’t lie, cheat, and steal. No, but humanity does—and as humanity goes, so goes the world. It shouldn’t surprise us then when God, after the flood, makes a covenant, not only with Noah, but with the entire creation (Gen. 9:9-11).

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament we witness this cycle (of creation suffering because of man’s sin) time and time again. Notice but a few of these instances:

And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.”—Jer. 2:7

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds.”—Ezekiel 36:16-17

Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.”—Hosea 4:1-3

The Old Testament leaves little doubt: there is an inherent, intimate connection between God’s preeminent creature and the creation they were made to reign over.

The Hope of Creation

It is here that we get a little ahead of ourselves, yet we cannot discuss the creation’s curse without peering into the future hope of the world. In Romans 8, Paul writes about the suffering we presently experience in this life. He mentions that what is coming can’t even compare to what we currently endure (v. 18) he then describes what that glory will look like:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (v. 19-23).

There is a lot in this text that we will unpack in another article but note a few points with me now. First, Paul speaks of the creation being subjected against its will. That is, the subjection to vanity/futility that creation endures wasn’t something it chose or deserved. Instead, as we have already noted, it suffered due to Adam’s sin—not its own. This helps us to see that Paul cannot be speaking of humanity when he references “creation” for—not only does he make a contrast between humanity and creation in the text—humans willingly subject themselves to sin. Sin is an act of our will, not against it.

Secondly, note how Paul says that creation will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” That is, creation will share in the same glory that God’s children experience when Jesus returns. What glory will we obtain? “The redemption of our bodies” (v. 23). So, just as our very bodies will be redeemed from sin and its corrupting influence within the resurrection, so too will creation share in a resurrection of its own as it is transformed into a new and glorious state. This shouldn’t surprise us for, as we have seen from the beginning, creation either shares in the blessing or suffers from the sin of humanity.

As we close, I would like to end with a comment made by brother Moses Lard in his commentary on Romans written in 1875 on this text. I believe they are a fitting conclusion to this article, and will mark a natural transition into part three:

“I think it may be safely assumed, in general terms, that it includes so much of all creation as fell under the original curse on account of Adam’s sin. Under that curse the earth certainly fell; for God cursed it directly and in so many words. The earth, then, I conclude, is among the things to be “delivered.” From every disability under which it now lies in consequence of sin it will be freed. Not only so, but it will be “translated” into a state of more than pristine newness and glory. It will undergo a change analogous to that which the bodies of the redeemed are to undergo. It will not become absolutely new; but it will be the old earth renewed; and as the change which the body is to undergo will render it a better body than Adam’s was before the fall, so, I conclude, the earth will be incomparably better than it ever was. As far as it now is inferior to what it was previous to sin, so far, when renewed, will it excel what it then was. Whenever God has to recreate, it is ever of his purpose to make his second work immeasurably better than the first. The following from Peter confirms the truth of what has just been said: ‘We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness.’ 2 Pet. 3:13. I hence feel safe in including the earth in that portion of creation which is to be ‘delivered.”

 

 

 

 

 

[1] J. Richard Middleton, “A New Heavens and a New Earth,” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

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