Childlike Innocence


John’s language here is endearing and rightfully so. He calls us children, for that is what we are. We are the children of Our Father in Heaven; hallowed be his name. How we hear the word “children” makes all the difference too.

Some might hear the words “dear children” as an insult. They might say something like this: “I am no child, I am a grown man or a grown woman. Nobody can tell me what to do. I govern my own life.” Note the pronouns: “I” and “me,” and the tone with which they are delivered. There is little of the “child” in these statements. This is not the sense in which the Apostle John is writing here. He is thinking of the idea in the gospel sense here. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) It is crucial to understand the difference.

How do we become more like little children then? John is very clear here. “…continue to live in him…” It is in choosing to live our adult lives in communion with Jesus Christ that we become more like the child that he was to his Father. He obeyed the Father in all things, perfectly, out of his love for the Father. Obedience out of fear is not the product of innocence. Obedience out of love is the very definition of innocence. We obey God because we know that God loves us unconditionally. How do we know this? Those who know Jesus, know the Father, for they are one. We obey because we are loved, and our response is to love in return. And the great paradox of our Christian faith is that it is our willing obedience to the law of love commanded of us by Jesus, we are made free. We are no longer trapped by the foolish arrogance of ego. In loving God unconditionally, we become innocent, like little children. In loving others as we have been loved in Jesus, we become like little children, for we no longer judge others from the false pretense of pride. Instead, we become forgivers and healers. We have learned that the virtue of humility keeps us innocent and free of the temptations of the ego.

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Why should we be more like little children? So that “…we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” The meaning of life is to live in such a way as to be worthy of the life we have been so generously given by God now, and of the life to come. The meaning of life is to live our lives in the manner that Jesus did, in every way. This innocence is kept alive in us through the virtue of humility. For in humility, we know that we are mere children in relationship to God. We understand our dependence on his love and his grace. It is in his grace that we are able to love others as he loved us. When we let our pride get in the way, we lose our innocence and we lose our way. Those who love truly desire, more than anything, to be in the presence of the beloved. It is in loving others innocently and freely, that we remain in Christ Jesus. And it is in living this way that we can be confident and unashamed when he comes to call us home.

Lord, help us to live more like little children in this world. Give us the wisdom of childlike innocence so that we may confidently love others as you commanded us to do. It is in this innocence that the mystery of salvation finds its home in us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.