In his comments to Adam, God told him the ground was cursed because of his sin. Note God did not say, creation is cursed because you ate the fruit. It is not simple disobedience that caused this catastrophic curse to all creation. It is Adam’s motive in it. He listened to the woman. He desired her more than God. He turned his back on relationship with God in favor of relationship with her. And in driving that wedge between creation (which was given to him [them] to control), all creation was cursed.
That curse is detailed in verses 17b–18 in a chiasmus:
A You will eat from it
B by means of painful labor
C all the days of your life
B1 It will produce thorns and thistles for you
A1 and you will eat the plants in the field
Adam (and Eve’s) choice for life (relationship)—for satisfaction in truth, goodness, and beauty—was for their physical essence. But that choice instead would bring them only pain.
And ultimately their chosen tie to cursed physical essence would bring ultimate consequence. Verse 19 gives us an object lesson. Bread is used as that upon which the life of physical creation, the body, depends for its nourishment—for strength and for continuation. But verse 19 shows that the bread of this cursed creation would lead, rather, to pain and ultimate discontinuance—death. And since our spirits are inescapably tied to our physical essence, the ultimate consequence is death—everlasting separation from God.
That is why the New Covenant communion symbol includes the bread which symbolizes the body of Christ—that part of physical creation that died to sin and was raised to newness of life—everlasting relationship with God!
We have one more section in our outline under Part 2: The Fall. I call it Life without Life. It covers verses 20 through 24. We are shown immediately that despite the fall, human life is not immediately destroyed by God but continues for a time. Humans continue to be born to Eve (the mother of all the living). And by that thought of our connection in Eve, we may understand that the image of God, created initially, continues for us all as well. God doesn’t make new creatures, we are still all related.
However, verse 21 also let’s us know that we are under the curse. Death continues as well. We see that first in the fact that an animal (or two) died from which God uses the skins to clothe Adam and Eve. But the very fact of the clothing—to cover their shame in nakedness (3:7)—emphasizes the fact of the curse. Our consciences have been turned from an outward look to inward concern. That continuing shame shows the separation from pure love relationship with God as well as separation from pure love relationship with each other. And yet despite the fact that it is a part of the sinful condition of the fall, God is the one providing the covering, indicating that God will continue to care for his image bearers—to bring them back from their state of nakedness (helplessness)—see Ezekiel 16:1–8.
The last three verses are a bit difficult, so we have to maintain close hold on what we have learned. God speaks among his Trinitarian self about humans having become like the persons of the Trinity—knowing good and evil. What is God saying? Is he charging humans with a wickedness here?—an attempt at usurpation? Is he trying to recount how Satan had said the same thing (in verse 4) and about what God had wanted in not eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? No. We should not try to read so much into it. God said that the humans, in their individual spirits (who are image bearers), have become like the Persons of the Trinity in knowing good and evil, and therefore, because they are imaging God, they would want good. What is the ultimate good they could do? They could reach out for relationship with God. That is, remember, what the Tree of Life represents—relationship with God. So what is wrong with that?! A return to God would exactly what God would seem to want. Why does he prevent it?
God could not embrace humans in everlasting pure love relationship because of the glaring problem—human spirits are tied inextricably with their cursed physical essence. Relationship between God and humans occurs within that physical essence. (Note all the Scriptural reference to God living in the midst of us—tabernacle in the middle of the camp, Jesus called Emmanual—God with us, we are the temple of God—I Cor 3:16.) Humans are limited; they can’t go anywhere else. They live within their essence. So although relationship with God is based on God’s essence of TGB, relationship with God occurs in human essence—physical creation. But again, physical creation is cursed, and God can’t have that everlasting love relationship occurring within that cursed (separated) essence.