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.