A sincere person has had a difficult time in dealing with his infant children. In his frustration, he has accepted a theological position that is not in harmony with the Scriptures. He believes that babies are sinners. He does not impute to them the guilt of Adam’s sin (as many religious people customarily do); rather, he charges that infants are personal sinners. Here is how he expressed the matter.
“After dealing with three babies (they are older now) I can make this statement with some authority. Babies are the most tyrannical, selfish, and downright awful creatures in the world. Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. They know nothing but their own selfishness until they are taught otherwise. Toddlers are even worse. If they are not taught to share toys they will scream and beat each other with the toys. We are all born with the sin nature. We are not charged for our fathers’ sins, but we do carry enough of our own.”
One cannot but feel some degree of sympathy for this gentleman. When a parent has to care for an infant for the first time (or even subsequently), it surely is a challenging task. The experience can be intellectually perplexing and emotionally draining. Frequently, we are quite inept in handling the task.
But I feel more than mere sympathy for this individual. I am saddened because he appears to have let the frustrations of the new-parent experience rob him of the overall joy that caring for a new baby can bring. Despite his claim to the contrary, his distressing experiences did not qualify him as an “authority” on this issue. God’s Word is the authority, and it does not harmonize with this reckless, emotionally-oriented defamation of his children.
This father has allowed his discouragement to thrust him into a mode of rationalization. He does not want to take responsibility for his lack of knowledge and experience, and perhaps his inability to cope with stressful situations; rather, he charges that his children were to blame for the unpleasant situations he encountered in caring for them.
There are a couple of things that must be said regarding this gentleman’s misguided characterizations.
(1) Our friend’s disposition is quite the contrary of that entertained by the Lord Jesus. When the disciples asked about the qualities of those who would be the “greatest” in the kingdom of heaven, the Lord called to himself a “little child.” The Greek word for “little child” is paidion, which generally denotes an infant, or a very young child. In this case, the child was old enough to respond to the Savior’s “call,” yet small enough that Jesus picked up the youngster and placed him in the midst of the group (Mt. 18:2). Mark, in a parallel passage, states that Christ took the child “in his arms” (Mk. 9:36). The collective evidence would suggest that this child was what one would call a “toddler.”
The Savior did not even remotely suggest that this little one was tyrannical, selfish, and one of the most “awful creatures in the world.” Instead, he exalted the child as a model for those who would aspire to a place in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord’s assessment was light-years from that of the frenzied father under review. In this connection, one should also consider supplementary texts of the same vein (Mt. 19:13-15; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17).
(2) Mothers and fathers need to apply some common sense to their moments of parental discouragement. In considering the behavior of infants or very young children, one needs to reflect upon the fact that these little ones have not yet learned to understand the nature of their own needs, and how to have them satisfied. They are unable to communicate intelligently to their parents, with such sentiments as: “I am hungry; I am cold; I hurt,” etc.
Further, they as yet know nothing of moderation in making requests. They have been designed with certain intense instincts for gaining attention in the absence of more advanced communication skills. As they grow older, they have to be taught, of course, that different types of responses are expected from those who are able to learn at more advanced stages of development. This is the parents’ job.
When mothers and fathers do not take the time to patiently and lovingly instruct their children regarding moderate behavior (or do not know how), in their confusion they sometimes resort to other explanations for why their little ones seem to be unmanageable. At this juncture of their “wits-end” exasperation, along comes the “inherited sinful nature” theory, and they adopt it as a convenient explanation for their own lack of skill and patience.
Children can be taught to behave; it is not an easy task, but the problem is not remedied with false theories that contradict plain Bible teaching.
Youngsters sometimes develop an accelerated level of inappropriate behavior—either because they are not gradually taught to overcome their infantile conduct, or because they learn unacceptable behavior from others. As they grow old enough to observe, they learn to imitate the actions of their associates —even when they cannot yet appreciate the gravity of what they are doing. Sometimes their worst teachers are dad and mom, who themselves exhibit bursts of temper because they cannot deal responsibly with their children or other situations in life.
But infants have no moral culpability. They have no consciousness of a sacred “law” that demands: “You shall not cry, or kick your legs.” They cannot fathom why they cannot have a sibling’s toy that they want so badly. They have no awareness of a divine standard that either “accuses” or “excuses” them (Rom. 2:15; cf. 1 Jn. 3:4). There is no written, “Goo Goo” law from God to which they are amenable!
Incidentally, is it possible that baby Jesus cried at times? Do you suppose that Mary, on those occasions, concluded that this child was one of the world’s most “awful creatures”? The intemperance of our friend’s comments is quite incredible.
Finally, there is this haunting question that the advocates of the “infant sin” theory choose to avoid. When one of these “awful” infants dies, what is his eternal fate? Christ declared that when one dies in sin, he cannot enter heaven (Jn. 8:21). Is the “sinful baby” able to reach out to God for “pardon”? If so, where is the biblical evidence for that assertion?
Can we not fathom the horrible consequence of this doctrine —that babies are “awful” sinners? False ideas such as this should be abandoned on the basis of what God has revealed in His word.