IS sin inevitable?
I love it when the kids turn out to be glorious men and women of God. Is there anything more precious to Christian parents than that? I can’t think of it. And how they beam—these parents—when someone turns to them and says something like, "You two have done a wonderful job with the children." And why wouldn’t they beam? That is a great job you’ve done with that garden, fence, extension or whatever! That pleases us so why would anyone imagine that we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be ecstatic about our kids and grateful that we didn’t get it all wrong? Certainly we realize we didn’t do it alone. There were our parents or friends, Sunday school teachers and preachers that helped shape us and so blessed our children. Rejoice in this, I can hear John saying (see 2 John 4 and 3 John 4).
All this joy assumes that our input matters! All this assumes that the nature of our input matters. We think—and why wouldn’t we?—that nurturing children in the good is vitally important. Is there anyone anywhere that thinks differently? Even behaviorists like B.F. Skinner and bio-ethicists like E.O. Wilson would agree with that. Nurturing people in the good helps them to be good. It doesn’t guarantee that the child will be good in later life because there are other influences operating but to deny that someone raised in a loving, warm and disciplined home where righteousness matters and Jesus is Lord isn’t helped toward faith is nonsense! If a child raised in such a home grows into a fine Christian man or woman we shrug with joy (not presumption) for we more than half expected it. If a girl raised in such a home became a vicious serial killer we’d be astonished precisely because it runs against expectation. Even Christ marveled when he met unbelief in Capernaum (it might have been Nazareth—see Mark 6:1-6). And why did he marvel? Guess!
All this is so obviously true! And what about the other side of the coin? What other side? The child is raised in a house of garbage! He’s nurtured in moral filth and stink. He is taught bitterness by the two leading figures in his life and knows how to mistreat a woman and how to get even when you lack physical strength. He is shaped by cruel peers, bullied by people in power, fed moral muck in movies, books and cyberspace. And how will he turn out? Well, in point of fact we know many young people who beat all that junk and grew to be glorious people. Of course, praise God! But weren’t we amazed with a glad amazement? Didn’t we shake our heads in happy disbelief? And why is that? Guess!
So move beyond the individual to the family and then the community and then the city and ask what we expect of people raised in moral and spiritual gloom. Haven’t we said things like, "Well, wadaya expect in Miami (or New York or London or Belfast or San Francisco)? Move from there to nations and ask about expectations? And then ask yourself about the human family. Do you really think we will grow to manhood without sin? When Jesus both holds us responsible for our offenses and says they’re "inevitable" we need to affirm both truths. See Matthew 18:7 and 1 Corinthians 11:18-19. This inevitability is not something laid down in eternity on the basis of some flaw in the nature of something. It is an existential inevitability. In the light of how the world is, in light of how the Corinthians were occasions of sin and division are inevitable. They "must needs be". It’s for this reason that John in his epistle says that anyone who says he/she doesn’t sin is not only kidding themselves, they walk in darkness.
There was one Adam and one Eve and when they sinned they set something in motion that swept the world and swept the human race up in it. Since they introduced sin to us the world has never been the same. The idea that we are born into the same world they were is foolishness. The notion that our situation is like theirs is nonsense! We don’t inherit their sin but we are born into a human family that has been twisted like a corkscrew by ceaseless sinning that has affected structures as well as individuals. We are born into a planet shrouded in moral pollution and we breathe that junk until we too become sick and start coughing up our own configuration of pollution into the moral atmosphere. (I’ve developed this a little in a thing called The Dragon Slayer. You might find that helpful.) None of us growing to adulthood gets out of life without sinning. Say that we are responsible but insist also that what Jesus said is true—sinning is inevitable. If we have difficulty affirming both truths the right response is not to deny one or the other but to work to integrate them both.