First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15, 20

The Curse and Guilt

9 YHWH God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 The man said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 YHWH God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 YHWH God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above every animal of the field. On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.”

20 The man called his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

World English Bible

Has guilt ever led you to change your life? How can guilt motivate change in people?

Ah, yes. Guilt.

There’s an old joke that Catholics feel guilty about what they have done, while Jews feel guilty about the things they haven’t done. The joke points to an issue far beyond the traditional distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. A sense of social guilt, guilt that is part of a culture, transcends individual action. Such guilt is a society’s reaction to the real nature of evil. Evil is not merely a matter of private moral decisions. Evil can rise beyond what I or you choose to do on a certain day, at a certain time, to infect cultures, nations, even the globe. Social guilt is a realization that evil action grows so large that it inflects unknown and immeasurable suffering on innocent people. World War II is the classic case that pointed to the acts of a few evil men can change the course of history in devastating ways; the peoples of Germany and Japan have developed a social sense of guilt as a result.

The story of the Fall created a paradigm for shared guilt. The first humans wanted the power of God when the experienced evil; in that act, they broke from God and his plan for them. That single act altered man’s relationship with God, his mate, and nature. The change was described in the curse God placed upon the serpent, the woman, and the man in Genesis 3:8-24. The serpent was cursed to slither on the ground beneath the feet of humans; this position symbolized a state that was “beneath contempt.” The woman was cursed to bear children and depend solely on her husband. The man was cursed in his relationship with nature itself; he would toil almost into futility to feed his family, for nature would not yield its produce. As a result of evil, each participant (serpent, woman, and man) would step down in status and dignity. And, as a result of evil, death entered the world.

Within the curse was a glimmer of hope in Genesis 3:15. Humanity would not only struggle against nature for sustenance, it would also fight against evil. The serpent tempted the woman into eating the forbidden fruit; now, the woman and the serpent would be enemies. Her descendants would strike against the head of the poisonous (death-dealing) viper. Christians believe this struggle culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The one who cooperated with bringing Christ into the world would also share in the final act against evil. Eve, the mother of humanity, helped to introduce death into the world. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would be the new Eve, the one who was the instrument of divine providence; she would bear the One into the world who would destroy death.

If we have a shared guilt, we also have a shared hope. The guilt Catholics feel stems from the Church’s view of the Fall and its curse (i.e., we all share in the “original sin,” we all participate in evil). But, with guilt comes a way out, faith. We might be sinners, but we hold onto the hope that God is saving us right now. Life amidst evil is not futile. We endure it, but we also cling to our faith in a God who is our Father, our Brother in the person of Jesus Christ, and our guide in the form of the Spirit.

How does your faith give you hope, despite the guilt you might feel? How has that hope brought you closer to God?