"What if there are really gleaming, castellated cities hung upside down over the desert sand?
What limpid lakes and cool date palms have our caravans always passed untried?
Until, one by one, by the blindest of leaps, we light on the road to these places, we must stumble in darkness and hunger."
I had this professor in my college Speech class--I think he was actually a grad student. He was in his mid twenties, 28 or 29 at the most. I remember very little of the class, except that I almost threw up every time I gave a speech. However, I remember one thing that this professor said very vividly. I don't remember what the context was, but the guy said, "How can anyone believe in original sin? Haven't those people ever seen how innocent a newborn baby is? I just don't know how anyone thinks humans are innately sinful after thinking about a baby."
I also clearly remember what I thought as he spoke those words. I was confused. I remember thinking, "Well of course there is original sin. Haven't you ever met a human being, or tried to have a relationship with one? We can be fairly unpleasant, and I think that's from sin." Yet at the same time I was arguing with myself, "Well, I mean, babies really ARE cute and clueless. How could they possibly be born with some sinful glitch in them? Aren't we created in the image of God?"
First of all, the humor of two people, each childless, unmarried, and under the age of 30 postulating about the innate sinlessness of babies is funny to think about. I mean, we had no idea what we were talking about. I can say this now with confidence because I have given birth to two human beings of my own and, well, the sugarcoated image of a "baby" does not fool me one bit.
Babies are adorable. They have chubby cheeks and roly poly legs. They gurgle and coo and sleep like little angels. But, boy, are babies selfish. They take and they take and they cry and they fuss and they always want their way. Now, I fully realize that babies must do this to survive, and it would be awful if a baby couldn't communicate in this way. I don't actually think that these actions are "sinful". They're instinctive. However, there comes a point--and it's sooner than we probably think--when that baby figures out that it can manipulate people around it for the sheer pleasure of the act. Of course, I don't think babies are plotting in their cribs about how they can send their parents through the roof, but I think that a tendency toward selfishness, manipulation, etc. exist when the person is born--it is not just learned. Anyone with a toddler will surely back me up. This tendency toward doing what is wrong is the whole reason that we have to discipline children. We have to train them to do right because what is natural is the opposite. As my dad always says, "You never hear a parent telling their kid to stop being so good." It's true. I wish I had that problem.
But here's the thing. My professor was dead wrong, but he was also kind of right. Babies are born sinless. They are a blank slate of innocence and possibility. They have the potential to do good in life, just like they can do bad. They are, after all, created by God, made in His holy image. I guess what you can say is that babies are born sinless (as in, having committed no sin), but born with a sin nature (tendency toward sin).
I have come to realize that that this dichotomy is very important to keep in mind while parenting my children. At times, we are overtaken with either their sheer wonderfulness (I created a word, I know). Other times, they are simply disappointing because of choices they've made. It's a strangle line to walk as a parent because you have to find a way to nurture and prune at the same time. Sometimes, when disciplining, you get so angry that you forget that you are a steward of a person who was MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE. Believe me, if I could remember this better, I'd be more careful of what I say in anger. On the other hand, if I get too caught up in my child's loveliness, I get slack with boundaries and discipline, and then I have a problem child who does not at all resemble her heavenly roots.
As a parent, I think that the best thing that I can do for my children is to teach them about the full picture of their "heritage". I need to teach them about how they are made by a righteous heavenly Father who loves them and made them to be like Him. They are children of the King of Kings. But I also need to teach them about that other, less storied part of their heritage--their sinful human nature.
As a rabbi put it, "A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, 'I am but dust and ashes.' On the other, 'For my sake was the world created.' And he should use each stone as he needs it." My desire is to teach my children about these two stones, and to teach them to pull the right ones out of their pockets at the right time. Two stone parenting will help me to raise children who understand their value as a function of God, and who understand their neediness as something that only God can fulfill.