Conversion Or Childhood?

I’ve been wrestling with a vexing question recently:

Which has a greater impact on a person’s life as an adult: a dramatic spiritual conversion or the residual effect of their childhood?

Here’s what I mean.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul makes one of the most breathtaking promises in all of Scripture: 

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Wow.  Delete the old, copy & paste the new, and followers of Christ become different creatures altogether.  Traumas healed, self-destruction ceased, and purposeful living begun.  It’s the heart of the Gospel. 

I’ve seen it, I’ve celebrated it, I lived it.

And I’ve questioned it.

Because in more than a few of those “new creation” situations, I’ve watched with despair as people fall back into unhealthy patterns of ungodly living.

The same folks who emerge triumphantly from baptismal waters later descend painfully into cycles of addiction and abuse.

The same people who pray for salvation in my office end up paying a bail bondsman to free them from a DUI arrest.

And people who come forward in a rush of commitment sometimes fall away in a haze of apathy.

The thread that connects those instances I cite?  Childhood.  People develop patterns of behavior as adults that — knowingly and unknowingly — serve as coping mechanisms for traumas they endured as children. 

I’m not channeling my inner Sigmund Freud; I just have learned how human nature works.

It explains why people drink the wrong drink, date the wrong guy, digest the wrong drug, devour the wrong web site. On and on and on.

And to be sure: it doesn’t happen in every instance.  Not by a long shot.  But it does happen often enough that it robs me of a certain joy.

So for all the victories we see in the conversion experiences we share, I continue to be challenged by the ways different kinds of “deaths” from childhood can overwhelm new “life” in Christ.

Which leads me to take the question back to you.  Which is more powerful: conversion or childhood?