An elementary school teacher told me how she had to cancel—permanently—her class’s practice of afternoon “show and tell.” The last straw was a student who told the class how her grandmother’s live-in boyfriend attempted to shoot her grandmother.
The little girl innocently showed the bullet casings, and demonstrated the profanity that the two adults had screamed at each other. The teacher said the biggest hurdle was not in comforting the other children—disturbed as they were—but in convincing this girl that the incident was not normal.
Educators, doctors, nurses, pastors, and community workers all over the world can sympathize with this teacher’s plight. When children have grown up around random gun violence, domestic abuse, or drug addiction, one of the first things they need before their lives can turn around is to see that this is not the way it’s supposed to be; this isn’t normal.
To the child, “normal” is what she’s always seen, what she’s always known. That’s why, without outside intervention, the abused child often grows up to abuse, and the scared child grows up to scare others.
All of us have grown up in a world “red in tooth and claw.” Generation after generation has experienced tsunamis that wipe out villages, mudslides that smother babies, and vultures that pick apart the rotting flesh of deer. So we assume that this reign of death is normal, the way it has been from the beginning. We are wrong.
According to biblical history, the world has much more than a “spiritual” problem—although the root of the problem is spiritual. The whole physical universe is messed up, too.
Human beings aren’t incidental late-comers in nature. Mankind was created to be ruler over the cosmos—with “all things under his feet” in peace and harmony (Psalm 8:6). Now, though, we don’t see all things under human feet (Hebrews 2:5–8).
The peace, or shalom, of the original creation’s order was disrupted by humanity’s early insurrection against our Creator. When the man and the woman exalted themselves as gods—in league with the serpent—God pronounced a curse upon everything under the rule of humans—and that curse impacted everything.
Take a look at the contrast between God’s blessings in Genesis 1 and His curses in Genesis 3. The man’s original vocation of bringing bread from the ground is now cursed, with the earth itself in revolt against man’s labor (Genesis 3:17). The woman’s vocation as life-giver is cursed by the anguish of childbirth (Genesis 3:16). Instead of life reigning from the midst of the garden, death reigns as Adam and all his heirs ultimately retreat into the dust of decay (Genesis 3:19). Where humanity had originally been given vegetation to eat, ultimately they found themselves eating the flesh of the beasts they had once been given to rule—and they found these animals are now in dread of, not submission to, them (Genesis 9:1–4).
The Apostle Paul tells us this curse on the creation is not vengeful, but hopeful. Just as God guards humanity from the Tree of Life so that our bodies won’t languish permanently in a fallen, horrific state (Genesis 3:22–24), so He disrupts human rule over the cosmos so that it longs for liberation from the slavery of corruption (Romans 8:18–25).
The whole creation is now in “bondage to corruption” but “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”
This disruption between God’s image-bearers and their dominion explains why the apostle speaks of the entire creation as “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). He adopts the language of the Curse in Genesis 3. The creation is in “bondage to corruption” but “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, 22). Based on this passage, we know that the events in the Garden of Eden affected the whole cosmos. The whole cosmos was at peace until Adam’s sin.
The Bible also reveals how the world will be set right again. When Jesus ministered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He didn’t simply promise heaven—He showed Himself to have authority over the winds and the waves, over the demonic spirits, over sickness and death itself.
In the end, God in Christ will turn back the curse completely. This means returning to Eden-like agricultural fruitfulness (Ezekiel 47:12; Revelation 22:1–3), perfect harmony in human relationships (1 Corinthians 13:8–12), in animal life (Isaiah 11:6–8), and in everything under the rule of the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus. Earth will receive her King.
Until then, we are called to a life of longing and groaning. We long for “the glory that is to be revealed to us,” and we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18, 23). Our perception of the world is and will remain skewed until we recognize that the curse of death is not “normal.”
We must see death as an invading enemy, disorder as a defeated foe. When we look at the carnage all around us—including in the animal kingdom and in natural catastrophes—we must say, “An enemy has done this.”
In the meantime, we work to bring peace to a universe fractured with evils, both human and non-human. Grieved by divorce courts and abortion clinics, earthquakes and hurricanes, parasites and predators, we hear our Father’s voice: “This is not normal; this is not the way it’s supposed to be.”
*All Scripture passages are from the English Standard Version