Genesis 3:17-19 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. Through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
When spouses (or friends) speak wisdom, we should listen, but when they contradict God, we should ignore their advice both for our sake and for theirs. We are always responsible for our own choices, even when we choose to follow another, and our choices always have consequences. As we are realizing ever more clearly, our choices have dramatic ecological impact. God did not curse the ground. He simply declared what had already happened by the first couple’s choice. Misused gifts break, as every parent warns their children.
When Adam and Eve chose to become consumers instead of guardians of the earth–an ecosystem which God created as strikingly adaptable–it reacted defensively. Mutual cooperation became a battle of conquest and resistance, an abusive relationship that continues to do harm. We do not own the land with freedom to exploit it as we wish. We are merely tenants, stewards of the earth that belongs to God. We are in fact part of the earth, one with all creation so that harm to a part is harm to all. We are dust breathed with Spirit, and our bodies will one day mingle back into the dirt from where we came. “Dust to dust” is not intended to demean us, but to point out our fragile interdependence with all creation.
A consumer mentality seeks its own benefit with little regard for the other, and it damages creation. But the resulting suffering and toil that mark Adam’s life of survival are used by God to restore him. Adam is shown that self-serving is ultimately self harming, and he is invited back to restored relationship. If our destructive choices had no negative consequences, our foolishness and lust would continue to entice us down the path of harming ourselves and others until evil and destruction reigned. Instead of giving up on us, God calls us to face our regular failings with painful honesty as we embrace the healing grace he offers. Suffering and struggle are the alarms that continually call us back to a reckoning with reality and remind us of our need for grace.