Some days it seems that every woman who has ever been pregnant has a horror story she would love to tell you. Every story you hear gets worse, as the complications become more common and the dangers seem overwhelming. It is amazing to me how many women actually believe they almost died during labor. Then they talk about the PAIN!
Can God really be the God of birth if labor is so painful? Is this something God is really in charge of, or is this a bodily function that just happens, like breathing and blinking. The question is, “Is God in charge of my labor pains?”
A Curse or Not a Curse?
Do you remember reading in Genesis that Eve ate the apple first? Do you remember what God told Eve would happen because she ate that apple? You probably do, because it has become common knowledge that God cursed women to have pain in birth because Eve sinned.
Genesis 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
This line is often used to explain every woman must have pain in labor to pay for this grave sin. Sometimes it is used to explain that pain medication in labor is an even worse sin because it takes away the punishment.
I have found three real big problems with the belief that labor is supposed to be painful as a curse. First, not all women experience painful births. I am not just talking about the women who use medication to numb the pain. There are women who have natural births (vaginal, unmedicated) who honestly could not describe the sensations that they felt as “painful.” There are even women who describe labor as enjoyable. If this pain of labor was a curse on womanhood, it couldn’t skip random women.
The second problem is that God considers children to be a blessing, not a curse. The Bible repeatedly tells us that children are a reward and a blessing to those he loves. I am not suggesting that all blessings will be comfortable and enjoyable all the time, there are very difficult times in raising children. However, a blessing should be a source of Joy. How could a child be, at the same time a blessing and a curse? It simply does not make sense.
Psalm 127:3-5 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
Deut 7:13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land-your grain, new wine and oil-the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.
Deut 28:11 The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity-in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground-in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you
The third reason I do not believe that statement is a curse has to do with the actual meanings of the Hebrew words used. The word translated as pain is also a word that means work, labor or toil. The word that is translated as childbearing actually means conception or fertility.
The words translated as pain in the first and second half of the sentence are different words! In fact, the word used in the first half of the sentence is the exact same word that is translated as toil when God spoke to Adam. So, it is possible that the “curse” may mean:
I will have authority over your labor and fertility. With (toil) work you will have children.
Simply put, God did not curse women any more than he cursed men. For more information about the concept of pain during birth in the Bible, I refer you to Helen Wessel’s classic work “The Joy of Natural Childbirth.”
If not a curse, then why?
If labor pain is not a curse, why do some women have difficult labors? Doesn’t it seem unfair that some women have easy labors, while other women have a difficult time, and others end up with major surgery to have a baby?
The first thing to remember is that God is not into what we consider “fair.” There are many reasons that God has for the things he does. Sometimes he allows people to be sick or disabled so he may display his glory, as in John 9:1-3.
John 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
It is possible that by bringing a woman through such a difficult time of pain and hard work, God displays his ability to give her strength.
Think about the story of Job. Here was a man who was, by God’s own testimony, the greatest man. God said, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Yet God allowed everything to be taken from Job, and for Job’s body to be covered in boils. Why did God allow this? God never tells Job. But we see from the story that God allowed Job to be tested to demonstrate that he would continue to trust God no matter what happened.
Could labor be a similar situation? Could God allow women to be tested to see if they will remain faithful to him? It is possible. But I cannot believe that it is true for all situations. The reason I come back to is that some women do not have difficult or painful labors. In fact, different labors for the same woman can be different.
So perhaps God serves different purposes in different women’s labors. Perhaps for some women a difficult labor displays God’s glory to those watching because she depended on him to bring her through it. For other women, perhaps an easy labor displays God’s glory.