Cursed: Genesis 1–3 and Beauty and the Beast

I’m reading through Genesis again right now. I’m in those early, weird chapters — magical trees, talking snakes, and boats full of animals. These chapters have spawned many intense discussions and debates over the centuries. I’ll probably answer every single one of these in the space of one blog post. (Or not…)

One particular issue that has often been discussed is the nature of the “curses” that come upon the man, the woman, and the snake in Genesis 3 as a result of the whole fruit-eating incident. The text repeats the formula “Because you did X, therefore you will experience Y.” “Man, because you disobeyed me, therefore your work with the soil will be hard.”

Understandably, we often assume these are descriptions of punishments. “Because you did that, therefore I will do this.” So we assume that curses are to be equated with punishment.

But I don’t think that this is how Genesis reads. It’s more that these results are sort of like natural consequences that follow from certain actions within the world of this story: “Doing X in this world leads to Y.” You might respond, “Yeah, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.” But I think there’s an important difference. I think that the second option involves us accepting the terms of the narrative world of Genesis — a world in which certain actions and dispositions lead to blessing, others lead to curse.

Whenever we read a narrative, we are compelled to accept its world if we are to enter into it. For example, my kids were really into Beauty and the Beast a couple years ago. If you are to enter into this narrative, then you must accept its world — one that involves enchantments, curses, and dancing dishes. You aren’t compelled to accept them as if they are “true” in the “real world,” but you must “suspend your disbelief” and allow that they can happen in this world.

In that world, the curse experienced by the beast is one such element. We must allow that such curses can happen. But more importantly, every story I know of that involves such curses, including Beauty and the Beast, does so because it wants the audience to long for, anticipate, the time when that curse will be broken. From the standpoint of the narrative, the existence of the curse doesn’t settle well; it compels the audience to wish for the breaking of the curse.

This is true also of Genesis. The curse is the sort of logical consequence of not following the rules in this narrative world. It doesn’t have to “make sense” — it’s just the way that world works. But the curse does not belong. Readers dream of, hope for, the breaking of that curse. Within Genesis — and beyond — readers see that the curse will be broken by the God who has created and loves the creation. 

The words of “Joy to the World,” the beloved Christmas carol, come to mind:

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as, the curse is found.