When I was younger, I used to wonder why Jesus chose to die such a violent death. I mean, as horrible as John the Baptist’s decapitation was, at least it was quick. Christ had to carry the instrument of His own Death, a heavy Cross, and then hang for three hours with nails tearing through His Flesh. On a list of “Nicest ways to die,” Crucifixion isn’t exactly a front-runner. Yet increasingly, I’m convinced that this suffering was vital for two reasons. First, it’s an incredible sign of His Love. And second, it was Christ taking sin more seriously than we do: taking sin as seriously as we ought to.
The analogy which has helped make this clearer for me is childbirth. Mothers are about the only people with even a taste of what Jesus went through. Like Christ, many of the made a decision to submit to the sufferings, often extreme, required to bring new life into the world. And like Jesus, they opt for this out of incredible love- in the case of mothers, for children who they don’t yet know; in the case of Christ, for people He knows all too well. So absolutely central to the suffering of Christ is His unspeakable Love for us. But there’s more I think, and the analogy of childbirth helped me see it.
Go back to the original curse from Genesis 3. Adam and Eve (who, prior to Gen. 3:20, is still called “Woman”) are being kicked out of the Garden of Eden for their disobedience, which they blame on the serpent. It is this sin which brings about original sin, and creates the necessity of Christ’s coming into the world to redeem us. Here’s the entire curse, Genesis 3:14-19,
So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
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.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
I’ve noted before that the curse to the serpent actually foreshadows the undoing of the sin of Adam. That is, when God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” it sounds as if He’s just referring to Eve, but in fact, He’s referring to Mary as well (as Christ’s addressing His Mother as “Woman” and “Dear Woman” in John 19:25 and John 2:4 will later make clear). And Christ is, of course, the “Seed of the Woman.” Normally, the “seed” is measured through the man (as a literal interpretation of the term would suggest), so the fact that with both Adam and Eve present, God tells the serpent to beware of the Woman’s seed prefigures the Virgin Birth of Christ, who is unique as the only Child born without a human father. In Genesis 3:15, the grammar is ambiguous, as to whether it’s “He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel,” referring to Christ, or “She will crush your head, and you will strike Her heel,” referring to Mary. Either way, the end result is essentially the same: Adam and Eve were born without original sin and blew it, bringing the pains of sin into the world. But a day is coming where a new Woman, Mary, will be preserved from original sin, and rather than disobey God, She’ll honor Him with Her “Fiat,” the “let it be done to Me according to Thy Will” from Luke 1:38. Resulting from this obedience, She’ll conceive and give birth to the Christ Child, the sinless Messiah who St. Paul calls the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). And as Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'” So reversing the curse of Adam, wherein the first Woman brought the first Adam a fruit from the tree, bringing the curse of sin into the world, the new Eve brought the new Adam to the tree to become sin and bear the curse for us.
So this part I was aware of, and it’s heightened my awareness of the rest of the curse. For example, God warns that the ground “will produce thorns and thistles for you,” which seems particularly relevant to Christ. Hebrews 6:8 metaphorically refers to the thorny ground as ground in danger of being cursed, and it is this cursed ground which produces the thorns which Christ bears on His head (Mark 15:17), the God-King bearing a physical sign of the condemnation of sign being borne upon His Sacred Head.
And in God’s curse directed to Eve, He says “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. ” There are two facts which are significant: first, that childbearing was going to have pain even in Eden. This relates, I think, to the incredible selfless and life-giving Love that mothers are called to show their new children. But the curse of sin made the suffering extreme and sometimes deadly. It is fitting then that Christ, wearing the crown of thorns, brings new life – Divine life – into the world through such a very violent death. For as St. John tells us in John 1:12-13, “to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” St. Paul says essentially the same in Romans 8:16-17 and 9:8, of course. Through Christ, we became children and heirs. And so Christ’s death really is a form of painful childbirth, painful both because of His love and because of our sin.
In this manner, Jesus tied together all three curses: bearing the thorny crown, bringing forth new life in a painful childbirth, and crushing the head of Satan.