Seven-Year-Old Sinner: A Father and Son Talk

Our children are angels. That’s how we like to think of them, anyway. Who could look at a newborn, a toddler, or a young child in primary school and think, “there goes a sinner”? Yet, according to Christian doctrine, all children are conceived in sin.

From the moment they’re able to act of their own accord, from the moment they’re able to express themselves, our children sin at every opportunity. They lie. They cheat. They steal. They sneak. They lash out, talk back, and even hit. Angels they are not, and should be taught as much.

A moment for such instruction arrived in the Hudson home recently. My seven-year-old son has been causing trouble at school. Efforts to modify his behavior, incentivized by prize and deterred by punishment, have met with mixed results. He’s a sweet kid for the most part. But when he’s not, he’s really not, and it could present significant problems later in life if not properly addressed.

It was with that in mind that we had a little talk on Sunday morning, just the two of us, while getting him dressed for church. It went something like this:

Dad: Are you going to be good at church today?

Son: Uh huh.

Dad: See. You say that. And I want to believe you. But you’ve said that you were going to be good in the past. And then you’ve gone to school and [gotten into serious trouble].

Son: {resigned silence}

Dad: I believe that you want to be good. I believe that you mean it when you say that you will be good. But you know why you aren’t able to actually do it?

Son: It’s because of [my two-year-old brother].

Dad: Oh really. How do you figure?

Son: Because he’s always whining and crying and making trouble.

Dad: Uh huh. So that’s why you’re bad at school?

Son: {eyes betray logic breaking down}

Dad: [Your brother] isn’t even at your school. So how is he responsible for your behavior?

Son: {silence}

Dad: You want to know the real reason why you’re bad at school?

Son: Why?

Dad: Because of sin. Do you remember what sin is?

Son: What?

Dad: Sin is all the ways in which we aren’t quite like God wants us to be. God made us to be a certain way, to be good. But we aren’t good, even though we try. Do you remember why?

Son: Why?

Dad: Because of our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great–

Son: {Laughter}

Dad: great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Adam. He was the first human ever. Remember?

Son: Uh huh.

Dad: Adam was perfect. He was just the way God wanted him to be. He was good all the time without even trying, until he made the decision to do something which God had specifically told him not to do. He ate of a tree that God said he should not eat from, and from that day on he was a sinner. He wasn’t good anymore and couldn’t be good no matter how hard he tried. And that’s what we’re like too because we’re his children. You understand?

Son: Uh huh.

Dad: That’s why you’re still bad, even though you want to be good. That’s why you’re bad, even after you say that you will behave at school or at church. And it’s not just you. It’s everybody. It’s Mom and Dad too. It’s why I get mad in the car when people drive silly. We’re all bad, no matter how much we try to be good.

Son: {chewing on the problem}

Dad: But there’s good news.

Son: What?

Dad: Jesus Christ came to Earth. He was God, and came to Earth as a man, and died on the cross to pay for our sins. So He has the power to make us good again. He can change your heart so that you not only want to do good, but actually do good.

Son: But… my heart needs to pump my blood.

Dad: Yes, but I’m not talking about that. Sometimes, when people talk about their heart, they just mean how they feel. You understand?

Son: Uh huh.

Dad: I’m saying that God can change the way that you feel, if you ask him, and help you behave better because you feel better. All you have to do is ask Him. You say, “God, I know I can’t be good by myself. But I believe in your power to help me be better. So please help me be a good boy, in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Son: {physically turns away} I don’t know how to do that.

Dad: What are you talking about? I literally just told you exactly how to do it. You just talk to Him, the same as you’re talking to me right now. And you can do it anytime. You can even talk to Him at school or at church when you’re feeling bad or having trouble being good. And it doesn’t have to be out loud. You can just think it, and God knows your thoughts. So you can just think, “God, please help me be a good boy right now.” And He will help you.

From there, the conversation detoured into more trivial matters, his attention having been exhausted. I have no idea if he truly understood any of it, though his physical response seemed to indicate a degree of conviction.

This is the same conversation that evangelists have with any non-believer in any context. The sophistication of the language and the specifics of personal experience may differ, but the dynamic proves the same. Whether seven or thirty-seven, being presented with the Gospel — God’s holy standard, our sinful nature, Christ’s work on the cross, and the necessity for a response — incites conviction. People may respond to that conviction as my son did, by turning away. They may deny the Gospel, either explicitly or by underestimating its power to overcome their limitations. Or they may break before God and repent. Ultimately, that’s up to Him.

As a father, all I know is that behavior modification will not solve my son’s problems. No amount of incentive or discipline will make him a good person. He is no angel. None of us are. But he, and we, can partake of the righteousness offered freely by Christ.