Family Matters

Is Childbirth Painful Because of ... Sin?

Psalm 128  -  4 minute read

"The Psalmist is saying we must believe in the blessing of fearing the LORD."

Throughout the entire biblical story, it’s clear that having a family is hard work. Especially in the book of Genesis, there seems to be so much division among brothers and sisters, within families and with relatives, and between spouses.

The widely used translation of two words in one verse in particular has made our understanding the “why” behind this hard reality a little harder. It’s a verse that we typically understand to be a curse on the actual event of child labor, but it's actually a bit more complicated than that. Let’s take a look:

Genesis 3:15
     “To the woman [God] said,
           ‘I will greatly multiply
                Your pain in childbirth,
           In pain you shall deliver children;
       Yet your desire will be for your husband,
           And he shall rule over you.’”

“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth.”

Wait a minute. So, God punished Eve with physically painful labor in childbirth? Well, not really. Of course, you don't have to think about it much to see that childbirth would be painful — even before sin! Let's dig into the language to see what's really going on.

The Hebrew word for childbirth doesn’t actually mean the moment of giving birth to childrenherayon (spelled here in English letters) refers to the entire process of making, carrying, and raising children, not just the exact, physical moment of birthing children. It is a word that carries heavy interpersonal, relational, and social implications.

And the word for pain here is not the word for a bodily pain or harm. Rather, itstsabon (again, in English letters) means toil and hardship, “a pain.” It’s used in the next verse (verse 17) to describe the man’s relationship to the ground. This kind of pain refers to the emotional and physical toll that difficult circumstances can have on human minds and bodies.
God isn’t saying “Eve, because you disobeyed, giving birth is going to be painful.” That would be cruel! He's saying that because humanity has chosen to go their own way and embrace selfishness and self-preservation, the circumstances in which children are conceived and raised will naturally be filled with painful, complicated relationships.

The thing that ought to have been a blessing — “be fruitful and multiply” — becomes quickly twisted and is often naturally traumatic for the characters in the Genesis story, and as we know, the same is true for us today. Because humans often choose themselves, relationships apart from God might be filled with jealousy, competition, deception, mistrust, bitterness, abuse, and manipulation.

Take a minute to think about this pattern of painful, complicated relationships throughout the story of Genesis:

  • Adam and Eve (Genesis 3)
  • Cain and Abel (Genesis 4)
  • Lamech and his wives (Genesis 4)
  • Noah and his sons (Genesis 9-10)
  • Abram and Sarai & Pharaoh (Genesis 12)
  • Abram and his nephew, Lot (Genesis 13)
  • Abram & Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16)
  • Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19)
  • Abraham and Sarah & Abimelek (Genesis 20)
  • Sarah & Issac and Hagar & Ishmael (Genesis 21)
  • Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 25)
  • Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25, 26-28, 32)
  • Isaac and Rebekah & Abimelek (Genesis 26)
  • Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau (Genesis 26-28)
  • Jacob and his uncle, Laban (Genesis 29-31)
  • Jacob's many wives (Genesis 29-30)
  • Jacob and his daughter, Dinah (Genesis 34)
  • Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 37)
  • Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37, 42-46)
  • Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)
  • Jacob and his sons (Genesis 49)
Genesis 3:16 is a small preview into each generation of the stories in Genesis, and it's anticipating the relational turmoil that humanity will experience as they raise families. At some point, each one of us has felt jealous, deeply hurt, or betrayed by someone close to us. And the thing is — each of these families was a part of God's bigger plan for humanity! They did many of the right things, and it was not enough.

But, when a family fears God — when people trust in God’s way of doing things — that turmoil fades away. As people trust God, they choose themselves less; and as people choose themselves less, they choose others more. Eventually, jealousy, bitterness, and manipulation will lose their place among selflessness and are replaced by marks of God's character: love, joy, mutual trust, and respect.
Hagar and Ishmael by George Hitchcock, c. 1850-1913 112 cm x 162 cm