Who hasn’t heard that phrase? In all likelihood, most of us have probably thought it from time to time. We’ve certainly acted on the presumption. If someone is standing near us in the supermarket, we assume they’re shopping, not that they’re stalking us or preparing to rob us. We rely on the assumption that people know right from wrong, that they aren’t going to set out to harm us, and if someone does, they’ll be prosecuted. We live by an ingrained notion that indeed, people are basically good.
The Bible tells us otherwise, though. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Verses like Proverbs 22:5, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it,” imply that right living is learned, not inherited, and Romans 7:19, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want,” talks about the battle against our sin nature.
I think this concept of inborn sin is never more clear than in raising a toddler. Very early on, they discover that they have a will of their own, and they do NOT like to have it thwarted.
My 20-month-old has recently started temper tantrums. They’re really quite funny. He drops to the ground, sometimes very stereotypically with the beating of the hands and feet, and sometimes just flopping in a big lump of dead weight. He also screams.
It doesn’t take much. The word “no” is right at the top of his list. Tonight, he threw a fit because I wouldn’t let him have his sister’s blanket and tried to give him his own instead. Earlier tonight he squirmed out of my arms and flopped on the floor when I brought him out of his brother’s room.
He also does not like to be told what to do. For example, “Don’t throw your toys on the floor.”
Watching a toddler process the world around him as he transitions from an infant, around whom the world revolves, into a child, who is part of a community and is expected to follow certain standards of behavior, makes it very clear that humans have a nature that is not, in fact, “basically good.” It is basically selfish and demanding. It is through good training that we learn to fit into a family and a society. And it is only through God’s grace that we can ever be considered “good.”