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Confessions: No One Is Clean Of Sin In Your Eyes

Who will bring to my mind the sin of my infancy, since no one is clean of sin in your eyes, not even a baby whose life on earth is only a day long?... As we grow up, we pull up behavior of that sort by the roots and toss it out. I haven’t seen anyone, when cleaning something out, consciously throw away good things…  I myself have observed … a tiny child who was jealous… But these things are gently put up with, not because they’re nothing, or because they’re small matters, but because at a more advanced age they’ll disappear. You can confirm this by the fact that you can’t calmly endure the very same faults when you detect them in someone older.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.11

Augustine was the first to articulate the doctrine of original sin. If we are all becoming better, how is it that even in adulthood we are all still plagued by the same childish impulses? No one when improving something, or cleaning out their house, throws out the good or keeps what is denigrating it. Yet, that is what we see over and over again within every human. The only difference between an adult and a child is that we believe that these behaviors will disappear as we get older; that is the only reason we put up with it in a child. But let us take Augustine’s illustration of the jealous child. If we truly “pull up behavior of that sort by the roots and toss it out,” how is it then that so many people are jealous? Might it be because no one is clean of sin? Yes, Augustine would answer. As Augustine notes, “being weak, babies’ bodies are harmless, but babies’ minds aren’t harmless.” In other words, if we really examine our most sinful actions, we will see that they are nothing but adult versions of our childish impulses. There is no sinful action that is harmless, no matter how innocent.

Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me. — Psalm 51:5

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

—Isaiah 59:2

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways,

and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

—Romans 3:10-18

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

—Romans 8:1

Lord, show me my sin and remind me that I am not condemned in You. That my soul may be filled with gratitude, joy, grace, and love. Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.


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