Sunday, June 13, 2010

Natal Trauma

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. Devotional is indented.

. . . in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5

You probably don't need me to remind you of this, but there's nothing less innocent than childhood. You see the moral dilemma of children when they are quite young. For example, have you ever seen the body of a yet wordless infant stiffen up in anger? You know the scene. It's nap time. You've fed and changed him. You've sung every song known to human culture and finally he's asleep. You make your way to the door of the room and just as you're ready to make your escape, you hear this ear-piercing scream. You turn around and there he is, red-faced, his entire body rigid with anger. Now you have to visit what's going on there. Clearly, this little one isn't suffering out of need. All of his needs have been taken care of. No, he's angry, and he's angry because at that moment you're not doing what he wants you to do. His rigid-body scream is saying, "Mommy, I love you and I have a wonderful plan for your life!"

I think every parent has been in this place. After eight children I know it well.

A side benefit is sometimes we see ourselves in them. Even as adults we have the same attitudes and desires deep within. Sometimes seeing it in someone else helps identify it in me.

You see, when David says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me"(niv), he's exposing the ultimate natal trauma. There's a deeper birth trauma than the physical suffering that both mother and child must endure in order for the child to be born. The deeper, more profound trauma is the devastating reality that you can't stop yourself from giving birth to a sinner. It happens 100 percent of the time. It's the natal disease for which there is no inoculation.

It’s also something we will always have with us. We may fight our whole lives but it will always be there. It’s like an infection we can’t get rid of. We take a medicine to keep it under control but it waits for its chance to reemerge.

But there's more to be said about this universal natal trauma. When David says that he was sinful from birth, he's talking about something more significant than the fact that even babies do bad things. He's actually pointing to why babies do bad things. Being a sinner is about the disease of the heart behind the aberrant behavior. The moral problem of babies is not first about behavior. They have a behavioral problem because they want their own way. They want to live in the center of their own little universe. They want to be the kings and queens of their own little kingdoms. So, they are innately self-focused and rebellious. They have their own agenda, and they don't want to serve the will of another. That's why the infant stiffens his body at nap time and the little boy starts screaming in the checkout aisle of Toys R Us. Both instances of bad behavior are rooted in the most horrible of natal diseases, an idolatrous heart.

How frustrating it would be to have children and not believe in sin. You could provide the best upbringing and shield them from bad influences but they will still do bad things. What we see with our eyes is the best refutation of the idea that we are born with a clean slate or are basically good.

I remember how hard I tried to keep my children from bad influences. I hoped it would spare them from some of the bad things I experienced. As I look back now I see that their worst enemy was the sin within them. They didn’t learn to be selfish or self-absorbed; it came from inside of them.

This is precisely why David prays for mercy. If my problem is congenital idolatry, then I need something more than systems of behavior modification and emotional management. I need the rescuing mercy of a Redeemer who will take my guilt on himself, who'll take residence inside of me, and who'll continue to persevere until I've been completely cured of the disease that's infected me since birth-sin. Thankfully, that Redeemer has come and his grace is up to the task.

This is the biggest lesson we need to learn. We are bad within and we need to be saved from without. I can’t fix myself and I don’t need a program for self-improvement; I need a Savior who will transform my heart.

A question from the meditation:

Are you finding hope in the Redeemer who will fight the battle with sin on your behalf until that battle has been fully and completely won?

Why is it so hard to learn this? Jesus offers the whole package of salvation but we don’t think it covers all that it does. We think we have forgiveness of sin but the change we need is up to us. So to answer the question, YES! In learning this I am receiving hope. The bad things I see inside myself can be changed. But the change isn’t from willpower; it’s from God’s power.


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