Graced Punishment

Light of truth

Jacob Chanikuzhy

Though Christians have four canonical gospels in their New Testament, what is known as the “first gospel” is not in the New Testament. It is Genesis 3:15 in the Old Testament that the Christian theology celebrates as the proto evangelium or the first gospel. In this text we have God’s following promise: “He [the offspring of the woman] will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” In fact, God uttered these words to the serpent, and of course, in the hearing of Adam and Eve. These words make perfect sense as an utterance directed to the serpent because these words contain the ultimate punishment to the serpent. It is aptly called the proto evangelium/first good news because for the first time the human beings are given the good news that evil will ultimately be defeated. Already the Jewish interpreters have identified the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent as the messiah. Hence, the Jewish and the Christian scholars understand Gen 3:15 as the first messianic prophecy.

It is interesting that the rivalry is not between Adam and the serpent but the woman and the serpent and the offspring of the woman and that of the serpent. Originally the serpent and woman joined hands to rebel against God and to disobey God’s command. The serpent seduced the woman and she cooperated with him and as such they were partners of sin. But after sin they became enemies. It shows that the alliance of the wicked will not last long. The accomplices became adversaries. The enmity is not simply between the woman and the serpent but between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent. That means, the enmity will not be over with the death of the woman and the serpent. Their hostility will be taken over by their respective offspring. That means the enmity between the woman and the serpent will be permanent. The enmity will continue through their offspring.

In the course of their hostility, the serpent shall bruise the heel of the seed of the woman and he shall crush the head of the serpent. Since the serpent has to crawl on the ground what it can do at best is to bruise the heel of his enemy. It cannot inflict a mortal wound. However, the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, indicating a total destruction of evil. This mutual striking took place at the time of the death of the messiah. The crucifixion of the messiah is the moment when the serpent bruised the heel of the messiah. But, this attack was not fatal; the messiah rose from the death. But the moment of Jesus’ death amounted to the decisive defeat of the serpent. Whatever evil it is capable of doing now is just the activities of a defeated enemy.

The woman was punished in her basic functions as wife and mother. As wife she should have been treated with love as an equal partner. But, now love gave way to lust; and equality gave way to subjugation. As mother, she has to give birth to her children in pain. Adam also had to bear the brunt of God’s anger. Since he sinned through eating he was punished also in his labour for food. Though Adam was engaged in work before (Gen 2:15), now work became a burden. Work was the means by which the humans were supposed to find fulfilling realization of their capabilities. Now, work became more and more a painful reminder of his limitations, helplessness and vulnerabilities. Work became futile and demeaning.

In God’s wisdom, God has arranged the punishment of sin in such a way that these punishments would not crush the human spirit. They were even made a prelude to joy and fulfilment. Thus, the woman who is in labour pain would be rewarded with a great joy of having a baby, a joy that would make her forget the birth pangs. Though Adam was punished to work hard, he will be able to eat food from his labour, a hope that will make him work without despair. Even God’s punishment is not devoid of his grace!

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