Is the Ground Still Cursed Today? Part 3

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This is Part 3 of a three-part series on Is the Ground Still Cursed Today? If you have not already, please read Part 1 and Part 2, as Part 3 wraps up the discussion with one last and most difficult question. 

Part 3 examines what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18-23 that some interpret as proof that God never removed the curse on the ground.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 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. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 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. (Roman 8:18-23)

Many interpreters choose to interpret “the creation was subjected to futility” in “bondage to corruption” as happening at the moment when God cursed the ground. This interpretation says that not only was the ground cursed, but the curse also affected every living thing, and the entire universe, thus causing a bondage to decay and death as we see as the norm today, but was not the norm before Adam disobeyed. And so, this interpretation infers that since the whole creation is still groaning in that bondage, then it must mean that the cursed ground is still in effect, and it won’t be removed until Jesus returns, and we receive the redemption of our bodies, and the new heavens and earth are created.

The least probable intended meaning is that Paul here is talking about the Genesis 3:17-19 curse on the ground where God curses the ground to produce thorns and thistles for Adam and his progeny as a punitive measure for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If anything, Paul may be referencing moments such as when God bars Adam from access to the tree of life, which allows Adam’s originally created mortal nature to run its course resulting in eventual physical death with no access to the tree of life.

In order to show that Paul was not talking about the cursed ground, and that this passage should not be used as proof that God never lifted the curse on the ground, I will explain what his most likely intended meaning is.

Paul here is speaking of something much larger in scale, which dates to before Adam ate of the forbidden fruit. 

What Paul is talking about has to do with the order of creation, or, the kind of world God chose to create in the beginning, for his own specific purposes and plans.

The “whole creation,” in Paul’s understanding, would be all that God made as detailed in Genesis 1, which we can only understand as the entire physical universe.

What adds to the difficulty in interpreting Roman 8:18-23 is that the Bible barely references in detail this concept that concerns the current and future creation orders. Revelation 21 juxtaposes the current creation order against what the new creation order will be like when Jesus returns and the resurrection has happened. And this rare reference gives invaluable insight to Paul’s intended meaning:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NASB)

Let’s take very special note of how the “voice from the throne” refers to the original creation order: the first things.

He does not call it “the cursed order,” or “the order that I changed when Adam sinned,” or “the order after I first made the world corruptible when Adam sinned.” No. He calls it “the first things.”

This order is the first things because it was the original creation order—the creation order where corruption in the world exists, where death exists, where decay exists, of which was not changed when Adam sinned. Yes, man was doomed to physical death when Adam sinned, but death in general was already a present reality in the created world. How else would Adam have understood God’s warning that he would die (Genesis 2:17) if death wasn’t already an understood part of the creation order?

Death was already part of the original creation order. It was just that God had an intention and a provision to keep Adam and Eve from experiencing it. This is why God placed the tree of life in the garden. The tree of life was always meant as a life-sustaining aid to mortal man, if and when he should need it. The fruit from the tree of life would allow man to live forever (in Revelation 22:2 we see that “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations”). This is why God never commanded that Adam should not eat from the tree of life.

Consider that God spoke to Adam about his mortality before he barred him from access to the tree of life, as is revealed when God delivers Adam’s punishment:

“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.” (Genesis 3:19)

Before God bars access to the tree of life, which is Adam’s (and all mankind’s) death sentence, he tells Adam he will return to the ground, that he was taken from it, that he is dust, and he will return to dust. God is not speaking anything new to Adam that Adam would not have already understood. God is reminding Adam of his original nature that he was created with. What is mortal ultimately dies. What is made from dust must return to dust, because this is the creation order. This is the way of the world. Only free access to the tree of life would keep mortal man alive perpetually.    

Pain also was already a part of the established creation order. Because of certain doctrinal teachings concerning the fall of man, we tend to read Genesis 2 and 3 and assume that Adam and Eve were immortal before sinning. We attribute a change in their physical nature due to their sin—that God removed their inherent nature of immortality. We assume that they were impervious to pain, sorrow, hardship, hunger, want, danger, or desire. But this is not correct.

When God delivers his punishment to Eve, he specifically tells her, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing” (Genesis 3:16). What pain, exactly, is God multiplying? He is multiplying, or greatly increasing, the pain she would already naturally have had in giving birth. Eve would have understood this clearly. The “first things” creation order included pain in the fabric of its functional reality.

It is important to note that this multiplying of pain is not a result of some kind of biological transformation of Eve’s physical body as punishment from God, that now the birth process would cause pain. Pain was always a part of the birth process. It was that God would have helped Eve in the birth process, aiding her in some undisclosed way that would alleviate the majority of the associated pain. Whatever aid or provision God would have given, he took away, to let Eve experience all the pain that would naturally arise from giving birth.

Paul, in another place, proves that death, corruption and decay were already a part of the original creation order. And this more so than just plants that would have died from being eaten, as some interpreters claim. When speaking of the resurrection body compared with the mortal body, he says the following: 

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:42-49)

When Paul talks about what was “sown,” he is talking about the nature with which God made the first man: perishable. In dishonor. Weak. Natural. Of the earth; dust. The first man at his initial creation was mortal, able to die, subject to decay and corruption. We know this is mankind’s original creation nature because Paul proves his position on the natural man in verse 45 by quoting, “The first man Adam became a living being.” This quote is taken directly from when God made man in Genesis 2:7: “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Paul uses Genesis 2:7 to justify his position that man was created from the beginning with a nature that was mortal, perishable, weak, and subject to corruption.

So, God originally created man with a mortal nature. Adam was not suddenly made mortal at the time when he sinned, or when God cursed the ground, or when he was barred access to the tree of life. He was already mortal from his very creation. This is the “first things” creation order that we saw in Revelation 21:4. God calls this the “first things” creation order because this is the nature of the created world in the beginning.

Of particular interest is that the same Greek word phthora (φθορά) is used to describe mankind’s nature as “perishable” when man was first created, as well as the “corruption” the whole creation was subjected to and in bondage to. So, are we to think that only man was made perishable in the beginning, and then the whole creation was later somehow reconstituted to become corruptible after Adam sinned? Of course not. As much as it may come as a surprise, the whole of creation, including man, was created perishable, subject to decay, not created with an inherent nature of immortality. The “first things” creation order was purposely made perishable.

Given all the evidence that the original creation order was one of a perishable mortality, we can see that what Paul references as “the creation was subjected to futility” in “bondage to corruption” was not a specific reference to God cursing the ground as punishment for Adam, because the world was already in that perishable/corruptible state.

We can see that Roman 8:18-23 is a reference to the “first things” creation order that God chose to establish, for his purposes, for his plans, according to his will. God has purpose in creating the world as he has. His purposes include first creating a physical, natural universe that is perishable, only to have it fulfill its purpose that he may bring about a new creation order, which was his plan all along. This move from the natural, perishable, physical world order to a new order that is imperishable and immortal in its fabric of reality is how God has chosen to progress mankind to its predestined, immortal state.

And, what’s more, this ultimate goal and plan are the “hope” that Paul references: “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.” It reminds me of another passage where Paul says, “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32 NIV). The original creation order of perishability plays a role in how God has chosen to show his mercy and grace to his creation.

One other gem that this examination unearths is that the coming new creation of the heavens and earth and its new order (Revelation 21:1-5), as well as the plan to get mankind there, cannot be simplified as merely a recovery operation of some kind, as if it were plan B with God taken by surprise that man sinned. This appears always to have been his plan. His plan was to move his creation, mankind, from perishable to imperishable, from mortal to immortal. As Paul said, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies,” and, “But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual,” has direct implications for how and why God made the world as he did, that he may move it to its predestined and ultimate state of existence, where, yes, he will live for eternity with his creation.

Another possible interpretation of “the creation was subjected to futility” is that God ultimately decided to withhold his intimate involvement with mankind, including his provision, aid and help, thus letting Adam and all mankind succumb to their natural, original mortality. This interpretation coincides nicely with God’s withholding aid to Eve in childbirth as we previously discussed. It also coincides nicely with God ultimately deciding, upon the increasing wickedness of humans on earth, to pull away his Spirit from mankind:

“My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3)

God thus brought an end to the extended lifespans of those up to this time down to 120 years, which would be the natural man’s lifespan void of any supernatural aid from God.

Whether you interpret God choosing to subject the world to futility as something he did from the very beginning, or whether he did it over a period of time after Adam’s disobedience by removing his supernatural aid and provisions, or whether it is a mixture of both, the cursing of the ground is something entirely different.

So, let’s bring this full circle, now that we have discussed Paul’s intended meaning.  

What about the curse on the ground? Was Paul referencing the curse on the ground when he spoke of the nature of the “first things” universal creation order or God removing his supernatural provisions from mankind? Let’s read it again, now that we have uncovered the necessary conceptual understanding and proper context:

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.

This is not a reference to the curse on the ground. The curse on the ground was not universal in its scope (it did not include animals, the oceans, the fish, the weather, the stars, the planets, the firmament, how fast or how much physical things decay, or mankind’s mortality). The curse on the ground affected one thing: the ground. It was God’s punitive measure for Adam’s disobedience. Nothing less and nothing more. We know this, because God said so.

“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;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 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.”
(Genesis 3:17-19)


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Scott

    I appreciate your insights, but in claiming that death was already a part of life at the beginning, which is why God threatened Adam and Eve with it if they ate the forbidden fruit, what do you do with Romans 5:12-19 where Paul clearly states that death FOLLOWED sin, not existing before it?

    1. Keith Wrassmann

      Thanks, Scott, for your question. It is a good and important one. Paul in Romans 5:12-19 is showing how just as Adam’s sin led to condemnation for all men, so Jesus’s death on the cross leads to life for all men (“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men…). The main point in considering this section of Romans with what happened in the garden of Eden is that God had not allowed, nor was planning to allow, Adam and Eve to experience death apart from sin. This is why he placed the tree of life in the garden. Adam and Eve were created mortal, with the potential to die. If they would not have sinned, God would have kept them alive perpetually through the provision of the tree of life. It was only when they sinned that God barred them from the tree of life, thus allowing them to experience and succumb to their natural mortality, which ends in physical death. This is what Paul means when he says in Romans 5:12 that “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because wall sinned….” Paul is not referring to death in general as concerns the entire world, but specifically to Adam and Eve and their progeny, because of their sin. So, death followed sin for Adam and Eve.

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