Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Pangs, Pain, Thorns, and Thistles

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Part 5 of series: Being the People of God
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In my last post in this series, I began to explore the impact of sin on human relationships. Genesis 3 reveals that sin corrupts human community, thus complicating our efforts to be the people of God together.
This chapter also shows that our efforts to do the work of the people of God will also be complicated and frustrated. Remember that God had given the first people the assignment to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1). The man, with the woman as his partner, was to be the gardener in God’s Paradise (Genesis 2). But then the first humans disobeyed God, and Paradise was lost (Genesis 3).
In Genesis 3, God reveals to the woman and the man the sorry results of their sin:

16 To the woman he 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 the man he 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.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Notice that the man and the woman will still do as commanded by being fruitful and filling the earth. Yet now the woman will experience pangs and pain in childbearing. God’s people will do as they were told, but with difficulty and suffering. Similarly, the man will continue to be God’s gardener. But because of sin, he will now have to do battle with thorns and thistles. He will work the ground as commanded, but now with difficult and suffering.
I expect you don’t need to be convinced about the fact that work is hard, no matter what your work might be. If you manage people, you struggle each day with relational challenges. If you are a parent of teenagers, you know how much wisdom you lack and how much resistance you receive. If you are a literal gardener, then you confront literal weeds and pests. And if you’ve ever given birth to children, you know quite a bit about the pangs and pains. (Photo: Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden, in Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings.)
Of course there are times when work feels wonderful and when success comes as if by magic. I’m now in my fifth month of my new position at Laity Lodge, and there are times when I think I died and went to “work heaven.” As much as I enjoy these times and thank God for them, I’m fully aware that there will be other times, times when I’ll be exhausted or frustrated or discouraged, times when my best efforts fail, times when I wonder if I can keep on going. I will face my thorns and thistles down the road a piece. Knowing that these are inevitable helps me not to be shocked when they come. It prepares me to lean upon God’s grace for the strength to carry on.
Although we don’t share in all of the details of Genesis 3 (eating forbidden fruit, covering ourselves with fig leaves, etc.), we do experience the brokenness that comes as a result of sin. Our relationships are tainted with conflict and shame. Our work happens with plenty of sweat and frustration. In the end, we know from experience that we no longer live in Paradise, where being the people of God happens with relational wholeness and rewarding fruitfulness.
Yet God did not give up on humanity. Nor did God abandon his plan to create a people for love and work. Rather, his plan began to show its unexpected complexity. More next time . . . .



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Bill Goff

posted February 12, 2008 at 4:49 pm


Now I’ll think of problems and obstacles at work as thorns and thistles.
By the way, I’ve often heard radio commentator Michael Jackson (as opposed to that other Michael Jackson) say that the problem in the Garden of Eden was not the apple in the tree, but the pair on the ground.
More seriously, I’ve always regarded part of Eve’s sin as exaggerating God’s command. As one who tries to take God’s word seriously, I have to take care that I don’t make the same mistake.



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John Stuart

posted February 17, 2008 at 9:00 pm


I grew up in Scotland, where thistles are abundant and is designated as the national flower. It was given this honor by one of the Scottish Kings who defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Largs. The Vikings tried a sneak attack at night, barefooted, only to find themselves in a field of thistles. Their painful cries alerted the Scots who went on to win the battle.
In summer, Scottish children used to open up the Thistles and eat the ‘cheese’ in the middle. The Thistle is part of the artichoke family. This ‘cheese’ is now being cultivated by herbalists and alternative therapists for health properties.
God bless you.



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John Davy

posted October 31, 2008 at 7:11 am


Hi Mark
I wonder if you have considered that Adam & Eve were not being punished but that God was just outlining the natural consequence of their behaviour. I do not believ that God changed the world to bring forth thorns and thistles but that Adam from that time forward was to be concerned with earning his redemption. Life for him was to be a struggle because of his altered outlook on life. The word curse can simply be taken to mean that it woould be despised in Adam’s eyes. For Eve the pain of childbirth would be seen as a way to redemption. Jesus turns it around. “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden..” “Labour not for the meat which perishes” “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”
There is much more than can be said in this space
Let me know what you think
John Davy



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