Sin? I never did anything REALLY wrong. (Confessions Book I)

I once sat in a Sunday School class where the topic was David’s adultery and his song of repentance in the 51st Psalm. This is the Psalm of David’s repentance after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his affair with Bathsheba and his consequent cover-up, which included the murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. One of the questions the group leader asked was why David felt so bad about himself. Though I thought it was an elementary question, I figured the class would conclude that stealing a man’s wife and having that man murdered was a pretty good reason to feel miserable and wretched. When someone does something terrible, realizes the wrongness of their behavior, conscience brings a heavy blow to the heart.
Despite what should have been the obvious answer, the class had a different understanding of the passage. After a brief discussion, they concluded that David’s problem was that he needed to have a more positive image of himself. If David felt better about himself, he would not have written the 51st Psalm. The real problem, apparently, was David did not feel the right about himself.
A few years later, I was teaching a middle school class on basic doctrines at a Christian private school. As we were working our way through the doctrine of sin, a student came to class one day and said her parents thought spending this much time on sin was stupid. What made the comment particularly painful was the fact her father was a pastor of a local church.
Over the years, I have heard many people give their testimonies. One of the most common testimonies I have heard begins something like this:
I was born in a Christian home and I never did anything really wrong…
Never did anything really wrong? I always think to myself. Why did you need to be saved if you never did anything really wrong? Did Jesus die on the cross to save you even though you never did anything really wrong?
Augustine says even from the earliest of infancy his tendency was to sin. In his selfish desires to have everyone and everything do as he pleased, in the fits he threw when they did not do as he pleased, and in the jealousy and envy he had when others got something he wanted.
He says there was never a time of innocence. He paraphrases Psalm 51 which says, “I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.”
Christianity is unique in that it believes that we were born sinners. We were born defective. No one had to teach us to be selfish or envious. These things were natural in us because sin was in us from the beginning.
From infancy, Augustine moves to his childhood. In his childhood, he learned and that learning only moved him away from God. He became a product of a system and learned to try to make it in that system. He tried to avoid punishment from teachers and parents by lying; he stole from his parents; he cheated because he wanted to win.
We might read Book I of Confessions and wonder if Augustine is being a bit over the top in his look at sin. After all, I’ve heard many people say, ‘I’ve never done anything really bad.’ So, for Augustine to point out sins like lying and cheating and recognize them as serious marks against his soul is shocking to us.
But what if the theologians of the past had it right and we, with our emphasis on self has missed the sinfulness of sin?


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