Brokenness and Gender Conflict

By Mark D. Roberts

July 20, 2015

To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’”

Genesis 3:16

As we have seen in previous devotions on Genesis 3, sin breaks God’s perfect creation, especially by injuring key relationships. The very first relationship to be hurt, according to the narrative, was that between man and woman. After they ate the forbidden fruit, the first couple felt the need to hide from each other. No longer could they be fully and freely themselves.

Genesis 3:16 reveals more about the damage sin does to the relationship between man and woman. The woman will now feel great pain when she gives birth. Nevertheless, she will desire her husband. The Hebrew word translated here as “desire” is unusual in Scripture. Its use in Song of Solomon 7:10, where it conveys romantic attraction, suggests that, in Genesis 3:16, the woman will continue to seek relationship and sexual intimacy with the man, even though the result will be painful for her in various ways.

One way, as we have seen, is in the pangs of labor. The other way is mentioned in the last phrase of verse 16: “and he shall rule over you.” In this verse, the use of the verb “to rule” (mashal in Hebrew) suggests dominion that was not what God had originally intended. The profound partnership between man and woman (Gen 2:18) will be replaced by a relationship in which man dominates the woman.

Human history is full of examples of men exercising exploitative authority over women rather than partnering with them in the good work assigned to them by God. In our day, trafficking of young women, sexual harassment in the workplace, and violence against women in the home are frequent and vivid examples of how sin corrupts the relationship between men and women. Yet, Genesis 3:16 is often played out in less obvious ways. A friend of mine who works for a major corporation finds that her some of male colleagues dismiss her input because she’s not “one of the boys.” Stories like this abound in today’s world.

It is right for us to work for just, inclusive workplaces. But, the deep healing of the relationship between man and woman will only come through Christ, as his salvation mends what was broken by sin (Gal 3:28; Eph 1:10). Christians, therefore, as those who have been saved by God’s grace in Christ, have a special opportunity and responsibility to encourage full, healthy, productive partnerships between men and women in workplaces, homes, churches, and cultures. Not only will this allow women and men to flourish, but also it will be a demonstration of the power of the gospel.


Have you ever witnessed male domination over women as envisioned in Genesis 3:16?

Have you ever witnessed partnerships between men and women that reflect God’s work through Christ?

Where, in your life and leadership, do you have the opportunity to build healthy working relationships between men and women?


Gracious God, we see in our lives what you predicted in Genesis 3, with man ruling over woman and failing to achieve the partnership you intended for us. Sin corrupts our basic relationships, making us less fruitful and less joyful.

But you have not left us without hope. In Christ, you undo the work of sin, opening up the potential for new unity and collaboration between men and women. May the gospel shape all of our relationships, including those we have with members of the opposite sex. As leaders, may we model the servanthood of Christ in all of our relationships – in the workplace, at home, in church, and in the world. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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