The seeds of sin and the grace of God

I have been reflecting further on the Lucy Letby case. There seems to be a strong line of reporting suggesting that it was almost impossible to believe that Letby could have done these things. She was gentle, sweet-natured, caring. She was deemed “innocent” and even attended an Evangelical Church as a teen. Here was someone, by all outward appearances, who was deemed the least likely of candidates to do the heinous things of which she has been found guilty.

There can be a strain of this kind of thinking within the church itself. There are certain kinds of people who are adamant that certain other kinds of people could not possibly do seriously terrible things. Some cannot conceive that a lovely, godly, gentle pastor could possibly be doing the things he has been accused of and found guilty. There is just no way, is there? Of all people, Christians really should know better.

The doctrines of Original Sin and Total Depravity tell us that we are all capable of these things. We are all sinners and, though by God’s grace we are kept from the very worst of sins most of the time, the truth is we all have the seeds of the most heinous sin within us. Given the right circumstances, any one of us could do these things.

The world likes to hold a category of ordinary people and particularly evil people. But they also acknowledge – through lots of the programmes they produce – that ordinary people, given the right circumstances, can end up doing some particularly heinous things. Many of us don’t do these things simply because we haven’t had the opportunity and cannot imagine wanting to do it if we ever did. But as many series and films recognise, otherwise “normal” people can end up doing all sorts of things they couldn’t imagine doing because the circumstances and the desire came together.

We all acknowledge this through the phrase, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. We often use this in relation to circumstances – which is certainly true – but it is also true as it pertains to heinous acts of evil too. If you cannot imagine yourself doing such horrible things – and I am sure most of us cannot – it is because the grace of God keeps us from doing them. Both the specific circumstances and the desires that might cause us to even contemplate such things are kept at bay by God himself. His common grace stops us from ever being as evil as we might be.

But the point is that there is nobody beyond these things. There is nobody who ‘couldn’t possibly’ do this. There is nobody who ‘isn’t the type’. If we are human, we err. Our hearts are broken. The seeds of even these absolutely disgusting acts of evil that we cannot possibly imagine ever doing exist in each of our hearts.

This was Jesus point in Matthew 5. Our hearts are broken. We may think we have murdered nobody, but if we have so much as hated them in our hearts the seeds of that sin clearly exist and – truth be told – with the right circumstances and God’s restraining hand removed, we would be no different. We may think we have not committed adultery, but the pervasive and almost unavoidable existence of porn throughout society tells us the seeds of that sin clearly exist in the hearts of most who make no effort whatsoever to pretend otherwise. All of us have broken hearts that have disordered affections that do not desire what they ought with anything like perfection. The seeds of sin lie in the human heart and those desires lead to some heinous things, things that any of us could given the right circumstances.

We should not be so surprised that a baby-faced, “churchy” seemingly innocent person has now become the UK’s most prolific child-killer. By God’s grace, the vast majority of us could not ever imagine doing anything like that. But the seeds of even that sin already exist within us and it only takes the right circumstances and the removal of God’s grace for us to end up doing things we could never imagine doing before. In the end, all of us are broken and it is only by the grace of God that we are not in the same place.