The Curse: the Man
Man’s work is cursed and he will die. (Genesis 3:17-19)
In eating from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Man showed that he wanted to rely on himself for knowledge and judgment, not God. In this sense, Man’s sin is like Satan’s because it shows a desire to displace God. However, in Man’s Emersonian self-reliance, he will die (‘return to the dust’). This curse is fitting because it is exactly what God warned would happen. And it also shows that Man cannot rely on himself, cannot be literally self-sufficient, cannot be God. And as Man’s work has been made painful, so has God’s work been made painful (recall that before God’s work was all “very good”).
It’s sometimes said that men find too much of their identity in their work (e.g., when we meet someone one of the first things we ask is ‘what do you do?’). We find much of our self-worth in our work: status in society can be quickly determined based on your job. Yet few people really like their work (as in, they’d rather be doing something else), and their work often interferes with other aspects of their lives. This predicament can be explained by Genesis. Man’s purpose was to work (1:28, 2:5), but this essential aspect of Man was cursed. So now our labor is painful.