Return To Innocence

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What we are asked to contemplate in this passage is the consequential difference between innocence and guilt. To be innocent is to be free from moral wrong; to be without sin. It is to be guileless, not motivated in any way by evil intent. For most of us, this is a very high bar to achieve. But, as Christians, we are called by God to live lives of innocence. We are to live in accordance with God’s just commandments in everything we say and do. It is this innocence that we were made in. It is our “natural” state. But we are fallen. We are sinners. Like our First Parents, we too have “bitten into forbidden fruits” and we have found ourselves wandering in the desert far away from the Garden of our Original Innocence.

But as Christians, we are also witnesses to a far greater story. We are witnesses to the infinite, invincible love of God. In Jesus, we know what God’s love looks like, and what it has done for us. We know that sin and death no longer have dominion, that God’s love has conquered them forever. We have seen the innocence that we are called to in the life of Jesus. And we believe that he has commanded us to love others as he loved us. This can only be done when we have, with the help of God’s grace, gone to battle against our prideful impulses. Though we are made in innocence, we must, because of our fallen natures, struggle mightily to recover and to reclaim that original innocence. We can not do this without God’s aid.

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It is just a fact that in our adult lives we are besieged by powerful temptations and we must go to battle against those temptations in order to maintain, or to recover our innocence. We all know this by experience. The more willful we become, the less willing we are to innocently obey the will of God in all things. We know by experience, too, that we are often ironic characters. We know that innocence is the virtue of happiness, but we often willfully pursue things that are in defiance of innocence and find, more often than not, that we have lost the happiness that we most desired. Like the character, Ivan Ilych, in Tolstoy’s great novelette, The Death of Ivan Ilych, we often do not realize that we have lost our innocence until we are forced to “respice finem,” to reflect on our own end. Sometimes we get caught up in the pursuit of the perceived “good life,” focusing on ourselves, forgetting the needs of others, competing against others to possess or achieve worldly things, rather than living for God. We lose our innocence. Ivan Ilych, confronting his own death, looks back on his life and realizes with horror that he had not been truly happy since the days of his childhood innocence. But, as Tolstoy reveals in Ivan Ilych, it is never too late to return to that innocence. It involves turning back to God, forgiving yourself, and others as you were forgiven by Christ on the Cross. It requires a willing recommitment to try again to love others as Jesus did. This can only happen when we recover that humility that finds its source in innocence.

There is an line in an old Broadway play that I’m reminded of here. “God don’t make no junk.” The innocence that God made us in is still there in us, even if it is covered over in layers of dirt, or is tarnished with the rust of our sins. God sees our innocence always and desires that we recover it, over and over again. He is infinitely patient with us, and kind beyond our deserving it. When we see that we have lost our innocence and turn to him in true sorrow for our sins, he restores our original innocence in a flash. When we develop the faithful and sincere desire to maintain that original innocence, he will never fail to give us the grace to do so, or to encourage us in the continuing struggle. We will, “…receive from him anything we ask.” This is truly good news!

Lord, help us to grow in our desire to return to innocence. Help us so that our hearts will no longer condemn us, so that we can, “have confidence before [you] and receive from [you] what we ask.” We ask this in your name, Jesus. 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.