In March, experts gathered for the third global conference to discuss the ethical dilemmas involved in their work—less than five years after a Chinese geneticist announced he had performed “gene surgery” to prevent a set of twins from inheriting their father’s HIV disease. Currently, related research on screening embryos for polygenic disease, including type 1 diabetes, is hotly debated.
Some are concerned this capacity could someday lead to a kind of “techno-eugenics” and “designer babies,” where prospective parents could pick and choose their future child’s genetic traits—or simply edit out their child’s genetic disorders to set up for the best life possible.
As a mother with type 1 diabetes (T1D), I understand the underlying impulse to protect my child, even as I know he was created in God’s image. I live in a constant state of awareness and worry that my son might develop my own chronic illness.
Type 1 diabetes is a life-altering autoimmune disease with no cure. The most current research on its cause points to a strong genetic factor—complex and polygenic—which increases the risk of diabetes in children whose parents have T1D. In my own family, I was diagnosed 14 years after my sister, cementing the genetic link behind what felt like an otherwise random diagnosis. Today, if my son developed T1D, that link would be obvious: He inherited it from me.
Knowing my child’s inherited risk of T1D, I pray against it daily, asking the Lord to keep my toddler healthy. I’m eager to do anything that might spare him from inheriting the same disease that impacts every aspect of my own life.
Outside that fear, I am quick to bond with my son over our shared personality traits and skills—reveling whenever people notice our similarities. He looks just like you; he has your nose! If he grows up to love baseball, we’ll salute his dad’s Little League career for that. And if he ends up enjoying science, I’ll give myself and my engineering degree a pat on the back.
But my encouragement sometimes extends beyond my child’s objectively positive qualities. When stubbornness and pride peek through—or when he reacts hastily in anger—I find myself amused at these echoes of my own willpower and determination rather than recognizing them as early sprouts of the sinful tendencies my son has inherited and learned from me.
Today, many of us cling to the physical health of ourselves and our families as the pinnacle of security. But as a mother, the fear of transmitting my sins—which are fatal without the hope of Jesus—should be far greater than my fear of passing down my genetic disease. And while I am sensitive and vigilant to watch for every possible sign of my diabetes, I often overlook a much more dangerous and likely inheritance: my persistent and devastating sins.
Do humans really inherit sin? Science and the Bible both say yes. It’s not just a narcissistic desire to see ourselves in our children; studies show that an individual’s genetic makeup may determine up to 60 percent of his or her temperament. In addition, a child’s environment and caretakers unmistakably, though less quantifiably, contribute to his or her personality.
The question of nature versus nurture is difficult to answer when we’re parenting our little ones—since they can mimic learned behavior as early as any innate mannerisms surface. But whether my son is genetically predisposed to pride because of my DNA or simply observes my prideful actions, internalizes my emotions, and mimics my reactions, the resulting characteristics are surely passed down from me.
As parents, it is easy to overlook our kids’ sins, especially when they are familiar to us—both because of a self-conscious awareness of our own guilt and a hopeful yet willful ignorance of its existence in them. But the Bible points to the lasting damage of inherited sin.
Because of Adam, all humans inherit sinful natures (Rom. 5:12), but—much like specific genetic traits—parents can also pass along certain sins.
The Books of Kings and Chronicles trace weaknesses through Israel’s and Judah’s royal lines. King Jotham did what was right in the eyes of the Lord—except for failing to remove the high places where people sacrificed to other gods (2 Kings 15:34–35). This oversight became a snare for his son, Ahaz, who then created idols in every city (2 Chron. 28:25). The father’s partial disobedience became his son’s Achilles’ heel, leading to complete ruin.
And as many faithful acts as King David is known for, he is also remembered for two defining sins—adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (2 Sam. 11). David dealt with these sins personally, but he passively ignored them in his sons: Amnon, who committed adultery, and Absalom, who murdered Amnon and later mounted a military takeover.
These biblical accounts tell us not just that generational sin exists but that it destroys. Sins dismissed by parents can cause familial fractures, physical loss, and separation from God. And Scripture says that, just like any fatal illness, all sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23; James 1:15).
Sin is a disease that we are all born with an innate proclivity for, and it’s one that I can choose to either coddle or correct. And while I can’t prevent my son’s sinful nature, I can take his spiritual health as seriously as his physical health.
But before I can do that, I need to first take responsibility for the sinful impulses in my own life.
Just as Ahaz was ruined by a sin that didn’t seem to bother Jotham, my son could be impacted deeply by some disobedience I am thoughtlessly modeling. That bit of gossip or junky TV show I’ve been meaning to stop watching may feel harmless to me—but those seeds could gain traction and power in my son.
If he were someday diagnosed with diabetes, I can anticipate a heart-wrenching guilt alongside the need to apologize for the sure pain in his future. Would I feel the same responsibility over any sinful habits I may inadvertently pass on to him?
Second, I need to take seriously even the faintest sign of sin.
If I noticed my son displaying an early symptom of diabetes, I would recognize it immediately and fall to the ground in prayer. But when it comes to seeing signs of envy or hints of bitterness, I brush them aside. I am familiar with the early signs of T1D, so I can spot them quickly—I know them because I lived them. The same is true for the specific sins we might share. This gives me a special responsibility (and capacity!) to understand and address his sin.
The persistent recognition of sin—both in ourselves and in our children—is an uncomfortable process. But ultimately, it gives me the opportunity to point my son to the relief promised in the grace of Jesus rather than ignore his need for mercy and sanctification.
As parents, modeling the need for grace requires us to confront sin. When it comes to teaching kids what to believe, many philosophies focus on not pushing too hard. And while I certainly don’t want to impart shame, I’m more than willing to face some discomfort—if only because I know it could protect my son from the consequences of sin and prevent his long-term suffering.
Showing my son the goodness of a God who sees, forgives, and loves us should actually loosen my grip on his physical health. My obsession with the wellness of my family serves only as a reminder that I have no control over it. We can enroll in every study, monitor every symptom, and pray every night, but my son may still develop type 1 diabetes. In fact, he may develop a scarier and more urgent illness that catches me completely off-guard. Where will that leave us?
Ultimately, it's not just that there are worse things to fear than chronic illness; it’s that there are better promises to anticipate than physical health. In Mark 2:5–12, Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic who had been lowered in front of him by friends. The crowd was confused, waiting still for Jesus to heal him.
As a parent, I am guilty of this mix-up. I often bypass the true need of my son’s faith in Jesus and Jesus’ miraculous forgiveness of sins—in favor of his temporary state of health and wellness.
I will continue to pray that my child never inherits my diabetes, but I can rest in the fact that our eternal bodies will be powerful and imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42–43). I rest in the fact that physical suffering is temporary—but identifying sin, taking it seriously, and pointing my son to the forgiveness of Jesus will have an eternal impact.
As much as I pray for a healthy child, my most desperate aim is for my son to know the Lord, to recognize his sin, and to be free from its burden. And if he inherits anything from me, I hope it is this understanding of grace.
Anna Taylor is a mom, biomedical engineer, and writer. Her experience in clinical trials, paired with a master’s degree in science and religion, helps her reconcile Holy Scripture with science, suffering, and skepticism.