The Torah begins with a description of the way things were made to be and how quickly we humans stepped away from the goodness of creation. We went from mutually reflecting the glory of God to a battle for domination that left the weak at the mercy of the strong. We went from being stewards of God’s garden to fighting the soil for domination, bending the created order to our will rather than submitting to God’s will. This state of affairs persists and even though we have been freed from the curse that afflicts us, we still find ourselves trying to live it out. For those of my readers unfamiliar with Genesis 3, the main text of the curse is:
16 To the woman God said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (NRSV)
It is important to note that this passage refers to a consequence of leaving God’s will for creation. Nothing in the above passage reflects God’s original intent in creating the universe. Many people who are sincerely trying to follow Christ miss that: ruling, dominance, toil, and pain are a curse and are not God’s intent for us.
For many years I held to the misunderstanding that The Curse was a divine edict establishing the way things should be. I was wrong, and my belief had consequences in my relationships because the standards of manhood, which were promoted by my churches of origin, were impossible to live into in a healthy way.
“Dominate women, but love them as Christ loved the church. “
“Dominate the Earth and use it up because God’s going to burn it all up anyway, but be a good steward of the resources God gives you.”
“Real men are always in control, but do what we say and don’t ask questions.”
These are just a few of the unrealistic expectations that breed isolation and which led to deep insecurities and self-loathing in me. I felt a deep sense of shame that I couldn’t do all of the “man things.” No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control everything at all times, least of all myself.
I witnessed how structures of domination in relationships led to insecurity on the part of dominator and dominated. My parents struggled through this for most of my growing up, and it got very hard at times when the fear of disconnection that lies at the core of all shame reared its ugly head. All parties ended up living in fear of each other: The dominators fear the uprising of the dominated and the dominated fear the reprisals of the dominators.
Structurally imposed fear and insecurity are very difficult to disentangle ourselves from, truly living up to being “The Curse” imposed in Genesis. What a doozy of a curse that is. We keep coming back to it and trying to order our lives by it, but we forget that to live under the curse is to live a dis-ordered and disconnected life.
When we give into fear we respond by trying to exert power over others, to control them for our benefit. This leads to relational damage, and the feedback loop begins. Take a look at the rhetoric surrounding the current political campaigns and try telling me with a straight face that there isn’t a feedback loop of fear in any of the candidates. Every candidate has an “enemy” that they offer “control” over, and it degenerates pretty rapidly as the fear travels down the lines of listeners.
I see the same fear feedback pattern in the churches I grew up in that esteem systems of Patriarchy and male domination. The rhetoric gets harsher and deeper control and gatekeeping result from the insecurities inherent within the system itself. This leads to a
fully enclosed feedback loop which ends up burning out or isolating everything connected to it. When peoples’ livelihoods are dependent on a structure anything that endangers the structure in any way is perceived as an existential threat, and any proposed change to the system creates anxiety, fear, and insecurity.
The most common response to insecurity is to attack what is threatening the status quo but not the system that is creating the context for the insecurity in the first place. This gets even more complex when religion is thrown in the mix because God then becomes the enforcer of the insecure system. There is hope however. Jesus confronted a patriarchal, top down, “God ordained” system and freed humanity from The Curse through surrender of power.
We have been released from the bondage to systems that thrive on insecurity, and most display the light and life of Christ when we step away from trying to exert control over others’ lives. We have been freed from the power dynamics of The Curse and have been given the paradoxical power of the resurrection life.
Paul’s writing in Galatians 3 is really the centerpiece of the argument that we are no longer under the dominating rule of the Torah contained in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Galatians 3 reminds us that:
10 For all who rely on the works of the law [the Torah] are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. NRSV (Emphases mine.)
This is our hope as articulated by Paul: When we submit to being one in Christ Jesus all of the external indicators become irrelevant in the presence of the suffering servant. The feedback loop of insecurity and domination is broken for us and we can live out God’s call on us regardless of any external category.