At what point does a child become spiritually responsible for their sin? The general answer between theologians is when a child actually feels guilty, and understands the difference between right and wrong. (This is not to be confused with shame, which is a condition placed on a person by someone else.) Most children come to this understanding by the age of seven, but some are younger.
The fourth and fifth years of my life seemed to be the catalyst for the shaping of the rest of my life. Lessons were learned during those years that helped me to distinguish right from wrong. God was giving me an opportunity to understand consequences. Incredibly, even though God and my parents were trying to teach me, I had a very difficult time learning the lessons in life that I needed to learn. I was stubborn, and Satan was quickly planting the seeds of rebellion in my mind and heart.
For two brief years, we lived in an apartment above the store where my dad was employed. It was a temporary move while our house in the country that had been partially destroyed by fire was being rebuilt. The insurance wouldn’t coverage all the damage that had been done, so my parents found alternate arrangements while dad and his friends spent their spare time rebuilding the damaged ruins.
I loved the convenience of living in the apartment. It meant I could run in and out of the store to see my dad anytime I wanted. The store, primarily a hardware and lumber store, also stocked some tempting convenient food goodies. I could spend hours walking up and down the aisles trying to decide which treat I would like to try. Everything looked so good, it was so difficult to make a decision.
As a young child, getting an allowance was the highlight of my week. Ten cents a week could buy a pop and a chocolate bar. Once the treat was consumed, the anticipation began to build again for the following week. Doing something that violated the family rules would result in allowance being taken away, and having to suffer while my friends enjoyed their weekly treat.
It was a sunny, summer Saturday afternoon. I remember sitting on the front steps of the store waiting. My friends that lived across the street ran over to me all excited about getting their usual weekend allowance and planning their weekly treat purchase. Excited to join them, I ran through the store into the apartment looking for my mom. She was the caretaker of the weekly allowances. But she was nowhere to be found. I interrupted my dad’s work to ask him where mom was. She had gone to visit someone in town. He didn’t know when she’d be back. I begged him to please give me my allowance so that I could join my friends in our weekend pleasure.
“Sorry, I don’t have any money here. You’ll have to wait for mom.” Dad was busy jostling between demanding customers and a constantly ringing telephone.
“What does he mean, he doesn’t have any money?” I thought to myself. “He has a till full of money. Can’t he borrow money from the till and pay the store back later?” My naive mind was plagued with the unfairness of it all. I tried begging him some more, crying and stamping my feet, all to no avail. My allowance was going to have to wait until mom got home.
I walked outside only to see my friends lick on their chocolate covered ice cream bar, and take a drink of the cool orange soda. My mouth drooled at the sight. The jealousy inside me raged. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair.
I ran down the street to the neighbors. “Do you know where my mom is?” The neighbor shook her head. I tried another, then another, all with the same results. I sat back on the store steps and pouted.
Suddenly an idea popped into my head. “I wonder if mom left any money in the house?” I stood up, dusted off my dress, and ran through the store into the apartment.
It didn’t take me very long to find mom’s purse that she had left above the kitchen sink on a shelf. I climbed up on a chair, and stretching as far as I could, I managed to pull her purse off the shelf. The voice in my head said, “you must never look inside someone’s purse.” I knew what I was doing was wrong. But still I rationalized. “I’m just looking,” I argued with the voice in my head.
Looking inside the purse, I saw the coin wallet. I snapped it open. It was full of lots of coins. “Mom won’t miss a dime,” I said to myself. “I’ll pay her back later when she gives me my allowance. If she notices, I’ll just say I borrowed it.” I grabbed the money, snapped shut the wallet and the purse, and did my best to push the purse back on the shelf where it had been. I was quite confident that no one would ever find out. “Perhaps I might even end up with two allowances.” The lies in my head kept building.
After purchasing my treats, I joined my friends on the front step of the store and we giggled together as we devoured the sweetness.
In the middle of taking my first few bites, my oldest brother walked by.“Where did you get that?”
“Its my allowance.”
“Is mom at home?”
“No.” I guessed that he was thinking that if mom was home, he too could get his allowance. “She went out.”
“Where’d she go?”
“I dunno.” I kept my face to the ground, hoping he wouldn’t know that I was lying.
Our treats finished, the sweetness sat in a revolting cold lump in my stomach. As we all dashed off to play, I did my best to join in the conversation and games, trying to ignore the guilt I felt.
That evening after dinner, mom and dad called me to their room.
“Where did you get the money for your treat today?”
I hung my head for a brief moment. Then a sinister idea popped into my head. Lying again, I said, “I found a dime, it was right there, on the table. I thought you left it out for me for my allowance.”
“Miranda, did you go into my purse?”
The guilt was overpowering. I cried as I admitted my sin.
It was the 1950’s and punishment was cruel. A black strap administered to my rear end at the hands of my father while my mother watched was just as embarrassing as it was painful. The sting of the strap was also a pain to my soul that stayed with me for the rest of my life.
The guilt created shame, for by this one sin, I now had broken half of the commandments:
(NIV) Deuteronomy 5:6-21
– Do not worship any other gods besides me
– Honor your father and mother
– Do not steal
– Do not testify falsely (i.e. do not lie)
– Do not covet
In God’s eyes, I was now a liar and a thief, guilty of jealousy and guilty of dishonoring my parents. More importantly, I had dishonored God, for in breaking the other commandments, I had made my desires my idols, the treats were my gods.
All because I wanted a chocolate bar and a soda.