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Love Among the Thorns

“When these things begin to happen, look up, be watchful, for your redemption draws near.”

Luke 21:28

At 36 weeks, Baby Chris is starting to feel the squeeze as he crowds the uterus. He has probably turned with his head in a downward position, lower in the pelvis, which at this stage is ideal for a vaginal delivery. This position is called “lightening” or “dropping.” There is just one more week until he is considered “full-term” and ready to be born at any time.

As his due-date comes closer, his mother’s pre-labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions can get stronger and can be mistaken for true labor. One of the important differences between Braxton Hicks and true labor contractions is timing. During true labor, contractions come at regular intervals and occur closer and closer together. Braxton Hicks contractions, though, come at irregular intervals and can sometimes be relieved by moving around or changing positions. Still, now’s the time to pack for the hospital.

Many Bible commentators have puzzled over God’s declaration in Genesis 3 that Eve and her descendants would experience increased pain in childbearing. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s sole command, the Serpent was cursed to crawl on its belly and eat dust (3:14), and the earth itself was cursed with thorns and thistles (3:17). Adam and Eve, however, were not themselves cursed: Eve did not suffer punishment because she bore responsibility - instead, she suffered the consequences of her Sin (3:16; I Timothy 2:14); and Adam was punished “because you have listened to the voice of your wife [instead of to the voice of God]” (3:17; Romans 5:12). As a result, Eve – and all women who came after – would suffer an increase of pain in childbearing in order to bring forth the fruit of the womb (3:16); and Adam would suffer and toil with the sweat of his brow as he worked the uncooperative land in order to bring forth the fruit of the earth (3:19).

The Hebrew language has no word for “pain”: the word used instead is “sorrow,” having the multiple meaning of “pain, grief, labor or sorrow.” This same word is used in both verses 16 and 17 and has been traditionally translated as “pain” in Eve’s case, and “toil” or “labor” in Adam’s case. What if we were to add “sorrow and grief” to both verses? Why would men and women be grieved and sorrowful as they both labored?

Ray Stedman suggests that the pain, grief, labor and sorrow that the human race suffers in bringing forth fruit outside the Garden is the “discipline of grace,” and compares it to Jacob’s limp (Genesis 32:25), and the thorn in Paul’s side (2 Corinthians 12:7). These lingering disciplines are meant to be the daily reminders of what we have lost. There is no escape from the sorrow and grief of death, pain and never-ending labor and we cannot go it alone – we need the Lord.

Our actions cursed the world with thistles and thorns and the prick of the thorn of the discipline of grace is our common experience. As roses laboriously cultivated also have thorns, our children are born as blessings in the midst of the briar patch of a pain that cannot be escaped, but which we are promised will be forgotten (John 16:21) in the joy of new life.

As we enter the season of Advent, we might ponder its focus on our sorrow as the “Braxton-Hicks” contractions that precede the Real Thing that we anxiously await – the fulfillment of the Promise that will deliver us from our inheritance of pain, sorrow, grief and labor.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

Romans 8:22

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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