THE LORD: Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.
Peter knocked down Heidi’s tower, so she knocked him down. Looks like temptation and sin to me!
This scripture didn’t seem right, so I studied the doctrine of the special status of children. I am amazed at how much I learned, which was enough to motivate me to treat my children differently. Do you remember when President Packer said that a study of doctrine changes behavior faster than a study of behavior changes behavior? He was speaking about how we treat little children!
The Guide to the Scriptures says that temptation is “A test of a person’s ability to choose good instead of evil; an enticement to sin and follow Satan instead of God.” Satan offers a choice (which is wrong, but the child hasn’t truly internalized that yet.) If the child makes that choice, she did not make it knowing she would be following Satan. Temptation is not “the desire to do something wrong.” I’m pretty sure children have the desire to do something wrong. But it is not sin because they didn’t know who was offering it. Little children cannot sin. (Mosiah 3:16)
Have you ever tried to get small children to say they are sorry? Little children cannot repent. (Mormon 8:19.) If you ask my Peter a question, he always answers, “Yeah.” If you ask him which of two he wants, he always chooses the second. Do you feel Godly sorrow for your sins? Yeah. Are you glad you committed them? Yeah. Do you want to follow God or Satan? Satan. Do you want to follow Satan, or God? God.
Lawrence Kohlberg theorized that humans progress through six stages of morality. Most adults are in stage three or stage four and small children are in stage one. Stage one people just try to avoid punishment. Wrong is what will get you punished. (Infants haven’t even gotten this far.) Stage three and four dwellers do right and avoid wrong to preserve social order. However, I believe that godly sorrow doesn’t come into play until stage six, which uses universal ethical principles. Stage six people do right because it is right, and they avoid wrong because it is wrong. Kohlberg said that he found it difficult to find people who consistently operated at this level. If many adults never get here, to stage six, it is pretty unreasonable to think my three year old should. If repentance requires godly sorrow, and children aren’t fully capable of it, they are not capable of repentance, either. (What does this say for adults who don’t get to stage six? I don’t know. I think that gospel teaching pushes people higher in the stages of morality. Also, maybe part of repentance is climbing up to stage six in a certain behavior.)
In mortality, and especially before the advent of modern medicine, infancy and childhood are extremely dangerous. (I think) God has decided which spirits will die as infants or as children. But this means that God has chosen which spirits will grow up enough be able to repent, and therefore be saved. This doesn’t make sense, at least without the Atonement. “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C:93:38). God is not a respecter of persons. (Mormon 8:12)
Little children can do bad things, but they are not accountable before God for them. They are accountable to their mothers, though. I know which principles I have taught my children, and I know about how well each understands them, and I estimate what behavior I should be able to expect. If my children give me less than that, I can hold them accountable. However, if I cannot deal with the bad behavior without exhibiting it myself, it’s better that they get away with it–they are not accountable before God. If I stop kids from yelling by yelling myself, what have I accomplished? I have now sinned, and they have not. And if my words say, “You should not yell,” but my yelling tone of voice says, “You should yell like I do,” what will that teach? Actions speak louder than words.
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers. (D&C 93:39)
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. (Moroni 8:10)
Moroni 8:8: “The curse of Adam is taken from them in me.” What is the curse of Adam? It has to be something that was given to Adam but taken from little children. I hypothesize that when knowledge of good and evil was given to Adam (and Eve) they also received accountability, or responsibility. This is a curse, because Adam would inevitably sin, and thus inevitably would be cut off from God. “Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man” (D&C 93:31).
When, during their first eight years, they take bite after bite of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (or when they start learning through experience right from wrong) they assume the curse of Adam.
But I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins. (Mosiah 3:16)
I am cursed, because mortality ensures that I will fail (preschooler + toddler + pregnant with #3=crabby). However I am blessed because of the mercies of my Savior.
When Boyd K Packer spoke to those who needed to be kinder to small children, he said it was possible to change:
It is contrary to the order of heaven for any soul to be locked into compulsive, immoral behavior with no way out!
It is consistent with the workings of the adversary to deceive you into believing that you are.