life

Bad Acting

There are some Christians who believe that we are all born bad.  We’re born with a sin nature and, therefore, we’re rotten to the core.  It’s what I was taught as a Christian.

I remember one of the women in my Young Marrieds Sunday School class saying something like, “There’s no question in my mind that we are born bad, all I have to do is look at the selfish demands of my kids.”  She had an infant and a toddler at the time.  I had a newborn and as I looked at my sweet baby, I was confused.  Yes, she made selfish demands, she was a baby.  Selfish demands are age appropriate for an infant.  They are necessary for an infant’s survival.

Maybe her toddler was a terror, but mine wasn’t.  Mine was kindhearted, reasonable and sweet – like her mama.

I remember when the pendulum swung at my church from putting on your Sunday Best: a smile and the pretense that everything is wonderful – because we’re Christians so of course everything is wonderful – to letting it all hang out and lamenting that we are all wretched all the time.

As a result, I spent years trying to dig up my inner dirt.  Get in touch with my inner wretchedness.  I even tried to manufacture it where it didn’t exist just so I could be accepted into the wretched sinners club, lest I be accused of being “holier than thou” or in denial.

We were created in God’s image.  So how is it that we were created bad to the bone?

[My little beagle is barking in her sleep, her little legs running.  Cracks me up every time.]

Genesis 6 tells us, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

The operative phrase is “had become”.  We weren’t born evil, we had become evil.  The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, where His corrupting enemy lurked.

I have six sisters.  The sister who is one year older than me was not nice.  She often said very mean things to me.  She often said very untrue things about me to my mom.  She often said, “I will NEVER forgive you for that.”  For whatever minor infraction I had committed.

But I didn’t let her meanness corrupt my heart.  One night as I lay in my trundle bed and she lay in the bed slightly higher than mine, I thought that it must be miserable to be so mean.  I thought she might benefit from some loving kindness.  So when her arm flopped off her bed and dangled just above me, I took her hand and kissed it.  With a heart full of compassion, I kissed it.

She immediately snatched it away and called me a lesbian.  I didn’t know what a lesbian was, but I knew by her tone that it was an insult.  And I knew that she wouldn’t/couldn’t choose the way of kindness.  Perhaps she was born mean.

I have a nephew who was born very artistically talented.  When he was two years old he produced amazing drawings for someone of his age.  But they were dark.  He drew pictures of scary looking creatures with blood dripping from their fangs.  The drawings were very disturbing to me.  I mentioned my concern to my mom but she just laughed it off.  Said it was a boy thing.  I had no brothers and didn’t know much about boy things so I accepted her answer.  But my spirit was uneasy.  Adolescence brought the onset of mental illness for him.  He is 30 now and he is still an amazing artist and I think he was born with demons.  But I don’t think he was born bad.  He was a very sweet boy and he is a kind man.  But he has demons.

Maybe some people are born mean and maybe some people are born nice, but with demons and maybe some people are born nice without demons and maybe some people are born nice but the corruption of the evil one made them all evil all the time.

And maybe some were born resilient to the corruption of the evil one.  When I was a social worker I read an article entitled “The Resilient Child”.  The article observed that some children can suffer a lot of abuse and come out relatively unscathed – even stronger and kinder for it – and others can suffer very little and be disproportionately damaged.

I haven’t found a one-size-fits-all explanation, so I look to what Jesus said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Jude told us that there is both wheat and weeds in the church.  Unfortunately, some of the young pastors at my church preach as though we are all weeds.  They stand up on Sunday morning and accuse us all of being lazy, miserable sinners who don’t spend time with God, don’t obey Him, forget about Him the minute we leave church and spend the other six days of the week following our own selfish paths.  And I sit there and think, “Speak for yourself.”

And stop yelling at me.

Because I am old enough and mature enough in my faith to tell the truth about myself.  And the truth is, I am a nice person.  I am not going to act like I’m not nice in order to fit into someone’s doctrine.  I’m far from perfect.  I have hurt many people’s feelings over the years, but not with malice.  My sister has been battling cancer for almost six years.  Battling hard.  I’m sure I have hurt her feelings by not calling more often.  But I am afraid to call because she feels so miserable after chemo that I don’t want my call to awaken her if she is sleeping.  Because sleep is her only relief.  So I forgive myself for sometimes making the wrong decision when I weigh her hurt feelings against her physical misery.

And I am often too absorbed in my own thoughts while I am cooking dinner to listen to my hubby tell me about his day.  And even though he doesn’t say so – because he is a genuinely nice guy – I’m sure it hurts his feelings; makes him feel unvalued.  And sometimes I don’t listen to my daughter right away when she comes home in the evening because I’m watching The Middle.  And I love The Middle.  The mom in The Middle makes us all look pretty darn good.  But she cares.  And she admits she is a lazy, lazy parent.  She has true humility.

True humility is not considering yourself a miserable wretch.  True humility is having an accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.  And then being humble enough to admit those weaknesses not just to yourself, but to others.  And then apologize.  When you can admit to yourself that you have weaknesses, you don’t have to waste your energy maintaining and defending an image of perfection.

So I guess what I am asking you fiery young pastors and other such accusers is: Why can’t you just let some of us be imperfectly nice people – ordinary sinners, not wicked, rebellious sinners?  Maybe nice isn’t possible for you, maybe your thought are only evil all the time, but mine aren’t.

And if you really believe that at our core we are all wretched sinners – no matter how long we’ve been sitting in that pew – then what is the point of sitting on the pew?

And what does that say about Jesus’s ability to conform us into His image?  About His ability to complete the good work He began in us?

The second I press publish, I will be violating my “only one post per day” rule.  Better add “talks too much” to my list of sins.

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10 thoughts on “Bad Acting

  1. I appreciate what you are saying, but basically you are saying there are those who are not born with a sin nature, and that there are those who have never sinned. I can’t agree with that and neither does scripture. No I am not yelling lol.

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    • Hi k. First, thank you for not yelling at me 🙂 It does sound like I am saying that some are born without a sin nature, but that is not what I meant. If that were true, Jesus would not have had to go to the cross. I obviously pressed the publish button too soon. When God revealed Himself to Moses He said He forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. They are not all the same. We all sin, but we are not all wicked. And you have to know God’s law in order to rebel against it. So those who haven’t been taught God’s statutes are for sure sinners, and they might be wicked, but they are not rebellious. So what I meant was that we all sin, but not all sin is wicked or rebellious. Yet some pastors speak as if it is. I hope that makes sense. And, thanks to you, I am going to go back and change most of the bads to mean and the goods to nice.

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  2. Alma Mater says:

    Very interesting. I don’t think we’re born rotten to the core. Definitely born sinners, and definitely deserving of hell. But there is some good there, too. i see my children doing sweet things for each other, as well as selfish things for themselves. I see good and bad in all of them. I would call them precious little sinners, loved by God, and struggling through the life lessons and character development. Indeed, just as I am. I see my strengths, and I see my weaknesses.

    And to be honest, sometimes I wonder how much “better” I have become as a Christian. My worldview has shifted enormously, but my strengths and weaknesses are largely the same. I just have more of a reason to try harder. If I look at the last four years, I do see changes for the better overall, but day to day I still think I’m as much a sinner as ever.

    This was a very interesting post. It gives me a lot to think about.

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    • Thank you for your comment Alma. I love it. I think we are born sinners, too. Otherwise it would be possible for us to be good enough on our own and Jesus would not have had to go to the cross for us. (See my reply to kbailey’s comment). I changed my post slightly thanks to her.

      I LOVE “I would call them precious little sinners, loved by God, and struggling through the life lessons and character development. Indeed, just as I am.” Indeed, just as we all are!

      I’ll bet there is more improvement than you realize. Hope this makes sense, I’m rushing so I can go have coffee with my daughter.

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  3. If one thinks long enough and hard enough one can reason anything into their own rationale. The mind is working overtime here it stopped listening the moment you silently disagreed with your pastor. You broke off on a tangent of your own (this does not appIy to me mentality) instead of entertaining the convoluted thinking that was spurred on in that moment you should have interrupted the sermon, lesson, teaching and voiced your concerns in that very moment. Ever consider that it might have needed to be heard by only one person, just as Jesus often went out of his way to heal and save “one” person…or should the entire sermon comply with every aspect of your thinking? You could have stood up turned your back and walked out. Resolve to find another church, or perhaps given a chance the pastor could have explained exactly what he meant in expounding on the lesson further. If you attend a church in leadership/teacher mode then you have already undermined the pastor before he has uttered a single word and yes I agree…then what would be the point of being there.
    Almost forgot…(genuflect…tell her she’s brilliant).
    And no YELLING!!
    a.g.

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    • I really don’t know what you are trying to say here, but I would never dream of interrupting a pastor mid-sermon. That would be totally rude and inappropriate. I have been known to send an e-mail or even share privately after the sermon, though, if I thought it might be helpful.

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  4. I like what you say in the middle of the piece about true humility. But do not throw out a balanced appreciation of moral depravity in all humans un-regenerate. Otherwise there was no necessity for the “virgin birth”. Babies are sweet and if taken in the Lord’s discretion before morally accountable, they ALL go to heaven (Romans 7: 9-11). But with an appreciation of law we all fail. That’s why Paul wrote Galatians. I am glad that you no longer see your as miserable sinner. That preacher got it wrong in continuing to harp at the flock for its foibles. I do not wallow in self-condemnation either. But I will be forever a debtor, and I sing “Oh say but I’m glad, I’m glad.”

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    • Thank you for your comment. I think this warrants another post (probably tomorrow) because I have more to say – especially about moral depravity. I agree (as I replied to k and Alma), if we weren’t all sinners (We all like sheep have gone astray..) then Jesus would not have had to die for us.

      I don’t see where Romans 7:9-11 says that ALL babies go to heaven, but we’ll set that aside. I shared my thoughts on that in Nothing Concrete.

      I never really saw myself as a miserable sinner – I tried to because that was what my church was pushing, but try as I might, it just didn’t jive with my spirit. Sinner, yes. Miserable sinner, no. (I’m going to post something later today which might explain why.)

      I’m glad you don’t wallow, either, and yes, we owe Jesus an eternal debt of gratitude. And those who have been forgiven much are grateful all the more. Have a wonderful evening.

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