Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive

Total Depravit-Eye

Total depravity -- not just doing the wrong thing, but not even being aware you weren’t doing the right thing. A corrupt nature means not even being able to notice how wrong, and dirty, and dark, and sinful you are. And how are you supposed to stop doing the wrong thing if you can’t even notice you’re doing the wrong thing?”

  • Catherine Brown,
Share this
18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell,
consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin,
the want of original righteousness,
and the corruption of his whole nature,
which is commonly called Original sin;
together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.
--Westminster Shorter Catechism

Genetics are a funny science. At some points, it’s rather easy to look at your child from the moment they’re born and say, “Yep, dad’s nose, mom’s chin.” Our daughter’s dimples are identical to her father’s, and were visible even in the womb. Her concentration brow is all mine, dating back to tummy time and the confusing carrots with frightfully macabre grins. But her eyes…we still don’t know where those came from. Mr. Brown has fairly unremarkable hazel eyes, a matched set to his mother’s. I have a vague blue-gray haze I’ve taken to calling “Yonder Mountain”, which, while not identical to, are still in the perceivable ballpark of my father’s pale eyes. But our daughter? Steel-ringed whiskey. No blue tint, no green tint, absolutely zero golden flecks. Beautiful to look at, but neither hue is found in any of the progenitors up either family tree. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked where her eye color comes from, and the best response I can muster is “the Crayola production floor.”

This morning, I found my answer.

The first homeschooling week of the new calendar year finds us at question eighteen from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, with one of the more full answers of the set, and a lot of important groundwork on original sin and total depravity needing laid. So I did what any analytical, type-A homeschooling mum would do: I diagrammed the answer on our whiteboard. Confession time: I am a visual aid junkie. Even just writing out the answer above for reference-sake, I still split the result into separate lines to prompt memory of how many points the answer is making, and what logical order they progress in. Ruling Regent of my own little Nerddom, that’s me. Been doing it on my own for years, and now my children get to reap the benefits. Or at least, I hope they do. Judging by how my daughter’s brain is developing, she’s going to have her own mental system for organization and processing, and it’s going to be most formidably-built structure…completely different from mine, and I’m going to be spending at least a decade unlearning my life-long method so that I can help and not hinder her as she establishes and raises up her own household.

But that’s a problem for tomorrow. Today, she’s learning my system.

And it was a clever one this morning. Simple diagram, good examples to grasp the new concepts, well-worded key phrases—I was in my wheelhouse. And she sat there, steel-ringed whiskey eyes glued to my face, my hands, my board work, soaking it all up, nodding in all the right places. Super schoolteacher mom, laying a good foundation through catechetical instruction. I’m not saying that the heavens opened up, and the angels started singing, or that Mr. Brown would come home to write his own Proverbs 31 tribute to his phenomenal helpmeet…but maybe a little bit. Just a smidge. I was in the zone. I could just tell.

Then my daughter spoke.

“Mom, do you know your eyes look really blue right now? Like, as blue as Augie’s do. Super blue.”

(Sound of balloon promptly deflating)

Steel-ringed whiskey eyes, alight with happiness, her connection with her mother, and her tender heart…and no comprehension in sight. All that endeavor, all that preparation, all that brilliant system, zero result.

“Rorie, can you tell me what I just said?”

And those eyes turn fearful, because she knows that prompt is a quiet indicator that she wasn’t paying attention as she ought to have been, and that she won’t know the “right” answers her little type-A mind likes collecting.

Now I could’ve lambasted her for her daydreaming and woolgathering, forced her to recite her household catechism answers to what it means to learn and work hard, pressed firmly down upon that “must get the answers right” trigger she came preset with. But staring at those eyes, now on the verge of a meltdown, I was smacked in my face with my own blindness and depravit-eye: that knowing the “right” answer wasn’t as important as knowing the right answer.

This is total depravity. Not just doing the wrong thing, but not even being aware you weren’t doing the right thing. A corrupt nature means not even being able to notice how wrong, and dirty, and dark, and sinful you are. And how are you supposed to stop doing the wrong thing if you can’t even notice you’re doing the wrong thing?”

And in that moment, I finally got my answer to whose eyes she has. Because I know that dawning of conviction. I know the acute, soul-searing miasma of horror, guilt, self-loathing, helplessness, and hopelessness that broke upon her steel-ringed whiskeys. I know the sheen of Romans 7 tears. Full-throttle epignosis. I’ve seen them in the mirror too many times to recollect. And seeing them on the face of a covenant child—no, my covenant child—even as they welled up in my own…well, she could’ve proven herself a theological savant and quoted the entire Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now By Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster and I wouldn’t have felt the barest fraction of joy and hope and mercy as I did the moment those cheeks were watered.

Three minutes, half a dozen tissues, and a long hug later, we finally finished her lesson. Three hours, a dozen tissues, and several quiet moments later, I’m still working on my lesson. But I’ve finally got my eye on the right answer.

  • Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown is the courageous homeschooling housemum of a Hufflepuff and a Took.  She and her husband Eric are spreading deep roots in West Virginia, confounding their Arminian neighbors with earnest and eager studies in Biblical Law, church history, presuppositional apologetics and pretty much any doctrinally-sound book they can get their hands on.  

More by Catherine Brown