Born Bad

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 51:5 (ESV)

Since its publication in 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s (1903-1998) book Baby and Child Care has sold millions of copies, and its views, which were controversial initially, are now part of mainstream thinking on parenting. He argued that children are naturally good until exposed to the world’s problems and do wrong in response to evil within society. Seeking to empower parents, Spock taught that “what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all.”[1] Raising infants therefore involves responding to the child’s inherent innocence, guided by the parents’ experiences and emotions.

Such a view could not be further from the Psalmist’s self-understanding. Writing in the aftermath of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah (2 Sam. 10-11), David confessed that his behavior was not a freak accident. It was in line with his sinful nature, an extreme expression of the warped creature he had always been. Uniquely in the Bible, he applied the verb “she conceived” (yacham) to humans, but this was not to teach that depravity was transmitted via intercourse or to ascribe sinfulness to his mother in the acts of conception or birth. Rather it was to show his ownership of his own sin, hence the use of “my” five times in verses 1-3. From the moment of conception to his death, David was sinful (cf. Job 14:4; 15:14).

David acknowledged the primary, from-the-womb nature of sin against God (v. 4)—missing His mark, and so entering the world full of transgression and perversion. Consequently a child’s mind, heart, and will are affected by sin, rendering him unwilling and unable to please God (Rom. 8:7-8). Even good deeds are compromised by motives other than the glorification of God (Isa. 64:4). Only when he admitted his true condition could David cry out for mercy and cleansing (vv. 1-2).

Dr. Spock passed from the scene in 1998, but each generation brings its own Romanticists, those who purport to discover the same “noble savage” Rousseau celebrated in the 18th century. Though John Eldredge’s vastly popular book Wild at Heart (“over 2 million copies in print”)[2] is to be commended for delineating gender roles and calling men to boldness, it falls into the trap of glorifying innate tendencies and blaming problems on others. By his account, men might find that which is “valiant”[3] in their hearts were it not for the damage they have suffered from their daddies—the “Father-Wound.”[4] Either through harsh dismissal or cruel silence, the father has failed to grant the necessary affirmation, so the son goes through life trying to cope: “Men either overcompensate for their wound and become driven (violent men), or they shrink back and go passive (retreating men).”[5] Such susceptibility to bruising makes one wonder whether men are more naturally mild at heart than wild at heart.

Of course, fathers can bless or wound their sons with dire consequences, but the problem goes much deeper, all the way back to conception. And any church which attempts to place blame on externals misses the great truth of man’s fallen condition and the true hope of his deliverance. It lies not in recapturing the once-wonderful, but in gaining first-time life in Christ. The answer is not to get in touch with wounded feelings but to get in touch with the Word of God, which provides an unblinking assessment of man’s spiritual condition apart from the grace and mercy of the Lord and Savior, Jesus.

The subtitle of Wild at Heart is “Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul.” David made that discovery millennia ago, and it was not a happy one.


[1] Benjamin Spock, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, 8th ed. (New York: Pocket Books, 2004), 2.

[2] John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Ibid., 69-71.

[5] Ibid., 73.