I just witnessed the tantrum of a lifetime, thrown by a young tyke in the grocery store. The little lady wailed and wailed as her poor mother tried to tell her to stop. Didn’t work. Does it ever? The toddler kept grieving her loss of a toy or other prized possession. Like a drama queen riding a roller coaster, the youth made sure the whole world knew how she felt.
Whenever I witness such a sight I’m reminded of a certain saint named Augustine who learned a valuable spiritual truth from a similar incident. One thing I remember from his biography, “The Confessions,” is how he became convinced of the inherent sin nature of man after observing a toddler throwing a tantrum of terror. If a baby — one who does not yet know the evils of this world — does by nature evil things, then surely mankind has no choice from the earliest age than to give in to evil cravings. We willingly choose to sin, most certainly, but we also cannot resist it. It’s one of those “both/and’s.” Our sin nature compels us to obey before we believe in Christ, he surmised. And because we have no inner righteousness, we give in to its callings.
He would later do theological battle with a fellow named Pelagius over the issue of our sin nature. Augustine believed all humans after Adam and Eve were born with a sin nature. A toddler throws a selfish tantrum because that toddler — like all others — are born seeking to gratify the desires of the flesh. They are powerless to change their lives until they surrender themselves to Christ and the Holy Spirit enters their hearts allowing them to choose good over evil. Pelagius thought sin came into our lives the first time we sinned, ala Adam. Our sin is our own choosing, he maintained, so there is no inherited sin from Adam or anyone else. We develop a sin nature when we give in to sin. The two men and their ideas have been very present in the history of the church through the centuries. I’m with Augustine.
Toddlers can teach us amazing things, eh?