Over the course of the last month or so, my classes read aloud Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. To say that students as a whole enjoyed this book would be an understatement. Students audibly gasped as the plot twisted, they frantically turned pages in the middle of intense action, I heard chuckling, saw misty eyes, and there was even a riot formed when we stopped at a cliffhanger (I legitimately feared for my life around Chapter 17). I was taken aback with how much this book resounded with each student. I thought 12 year-old boys wearing camouflage wouldn't be interested. They were. I thought my students who struggled with reading would get lost in the myriad of vocabulary. They weren't. Why? There are so many truths and resounding messages hidden in a story of a girl who secretly lives in the subbasement of The Biltmore House.
Like almost every coming-of-age tale, Serafina must decide her place and her purpose in her surrounding world. This internal conflict moves alongside the major aspect of the plot, battling The Man in the Black Cloak, and culminates into a series a questions about the nature of good and evil. Serafina is a "creature of the night", but does that mean she is intrinsically evil?
Aware of the eye rolls and sighs I was about to receive from the students who "just want to read the book", I stopped our reading to play the devil's advocate (ironically), asking this loaded question, "Can you give me an example of someone who was born evil?" In six or seven small groups, discussion commenced. After a few moments, hands went up into the air, readied to make a compelling case. Examples came pouring in: a baby being addicted to a drug his/her mother took while they were pregnant; lifestyles that play out generation after generation; and two subjects being exposed to the same stimuli, yet one makes the right decision and the other, the wrong one. Another flurry of hands went into the air. Either there was a contagious epidemic of full bladder sweeping the room, or a rebuttal was coming. Fortunately for our class and our poor outdated bathrooms, it was the second. One after another, students made arguments that decision was the most important element in each one of these cases, not the nature of birth. Ultimately, with some concession from both sides, we came to the conclusion there may be "mentalities" and "inclinations", but choice is key.
Since the existence of man, there has been choice. Originally, the choice between good and evil was simple; eat from the garden as God commanded or eat the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve make the wrong choice. Because of this, not only does sin enter, but also death (Rom 5:12). Does Adam's flaw or "original sin" get passed from generation to generation at the amino acid level of your DNA? Or is it a culmination of your learned responses from watching sin being practiced? While there are certainly arguments to both side (Psalm 51:5; Jeremiah 1:5), I believe the answer is simple to the question "Are we born evil?": It doesn't matter.
"Was she good or evil? She had been born in and lived in a world of darkness, but which side was she on? Darkness or light? She looked up at the stars. She didn't know what she was or how she got that way, but she knew what she wanted to be. She wanted to be good." - Chapter 19, Serafina & The Black Cloak
If you were born craving a drug or became an addict as an adult, if you were a victim of abuse or you are the abuser, if you lie, cheat, or steal to amass riches or merely survive, if your mom or dad left you or if they passed away before their time, or if you're full of unused potential or pushing hard with your widow's mite - you still have choice. While we say Adam's choice was easy, our's is pretty much identical - listen to God or don't. Ultimately, the confession and the corresponding conduct to follow the way of Jesus (Rom 10:9-10) or the selfish selection of temptation and sin (Jam 1:13-15) has more to do with your heart than your heritage.
This is why it is possible the Kingdom of God will be filled with people like Zacchaeus, a cheating tax collector, John Newton, a slave trader, and an unnamed thief who was crucified alongside Christ. They all were creatures of the night, like Serafina (and really, us too), but just as Serafina, ultimately chose good. Conversely, the "good" they chose in not simply a feeling, but an action, a repented life lived for their Savior, Jesus Christ. Each of them was covered in grace, and it changed their lives and eternal outlook. Just like them, no matter our heritage, we can choose the Light over darkness. Does it matter if we are born evil? Thank God, no. It only matters that we are reborn with a new heritage; the one that leads us to be called the sons and daughters of God.
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." - 2 Peter 2:9
Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” - 2 Cor 6:17-18