An abused, neglected, half-starved child arrived in our department yesterday.  She was hungry, and her hair was thinning like a prisoner in some detention camp.  Her potassium was low, her belly distended, her skin bruised and marked, with one open sore healing slowly from what must have been a blow.

The nurses gave her the best therapy known in all the South; they ‘petted’ her.  From crayons and toys to hugs and snacks.  Before long, she smiled.  Despite her distended belly, reminiscent of starving children in Somalia or Ethiopia, she eagerly ate crackers and peanut-butter.  She did not protest IV’s or blood-draws.

Our first instinct, our deepest and perhaps most natural, is to nurture and rescue these little ones.  Our second is vengeance.  We want to hurt, to abuse, to imprison…some even to kill, the abuser, the one who neglected one so vulnerable.

I love children.  I have four of my own.  I can’t imagine why anyone does things like this; or fails to do the things they should for children.  I am tempted to try a taste of vengeance.  It always looks like it would be sweet on the tongue.  But then, God says, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’  And tells us not to take vengeance ourselves, but to leave it to Him.

We may not see well enough.  Tragically, many abusers were abused.  Most of them learned, early in life, to treat frustration or anger, disappointment or unhappiness, with violence and cruelty.

Is it an excuse?  Absolutely not.  Adults are moral agents, capable of decisions.  They are all subject to the law of man, and the law of God.  Free will is theirs, and they may choose to harm, or not to harm.

But in every adult with free will there dwells some child, and in that child some memory of what he, or she, was taught about normality.

It seems that sin, evil, pain, all of these things are inherited in a very real way.  Those who do not subscribe to a spiritual view of the world may reasonably wonder what we mean by ‘original sin.’  I understand their doubts; or rather, their hope that humanity is better than that.

However, my clinical experience suggests that some things just go on and on, down the line of humanity, down the long, dark ages of abuse, rape, misery, hatred, neglect and pain.  And like a genetic disease, they began somewhere.  Diseases from mutations; sin from a fall.  There was a first.  The hypothesis has explanatory power.

We know, now, that some of the disease mankind has inherited are treatable, even curable.  Sin no less.

But it will take more than gene-therapy.  And far more than DSS workers, photographs by police-officers or even comforting hugs and kisses.

It will take transformation of the sinful genome.  Replacement of the sinful heart.

Only then can we hope for an end to the suffering of innocent and guilty alike.

Edwin

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