When accounts of sexual child abuse appear in the news, it's easy to sympathize with the anguished cry that the country - or even the whole world - is an unsafe place in which to raise a child.
Children do seem especially vulnerable because of their innocence. But when we understand that innocence, in its deepest sense, is not merely a lovely though fragile human state but rather an inviolable aspect of spiritual reality, we uncover its mighty power for good.
Actually, the entire context in which abuse occurs can be challenged on spiritual grounds. We don't have to accept the commonly held assumptions that children are small, inexperienced creatures who can become prey and that adults are larger creatures with occasionally perverted drives.
The New Testament assures us that man's true selfhood is the unsullied child of God. He is motivated by purity, integrity, and righteousness. The familiar words of John speak of the purity which is the real nature of man, born of Spirit: ''Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.'' n1
n1 I John 3:2, 3.
The innocence that children so naturally express is usually thought of as the absence of something: experience or education or sophistication. But viewed spiritually, innocence is not lack of worldly wisdom but the presence of spiritual actuality. Man is not innocent because he is a slate as yet unwritten upon by sin or guilt but because he bears the divine imprint. He always has been and now is the very image of God.
Real maturity, too, far from being an accumulation of worldly wisdom, is the ally of innocence rather than its opposite. One who assumes more of the stature of his native being naturally grows in trust, purity, and absence of guile. In fact, as Jesus pointed out, the fullness of spiritual being associated with the kingdom of heaven cannot come without the qualities of childlikeness. He enjoined us, ''Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'' n2
n2 Matthew 18:3.
This prayerful cherishing of both innocence and maturity does actively protect our children. When I was a child, a friend of the family arranged circumstances so that I was often alone with him and then strongly pressed me to participate in sexual behavior. Like many children, I failed to understand the full dimensions of these occasions. But I had been raised to believe that God was my Father, and so I did intuitively feel that I was not just a small human disobeying a grown-up, as I was told; and that my protests in this case were valid. The things I was led to say, though unsophisticated, were effective until the situation resolved itself in a natural way.
Later, however, realizing how limited my grasp of those events was, I felt that I was saved less by my own efforts than by the impersonal power of spiritual innocence.
We can all prayerfully elevate the innocence of children and adults worldwide. Such prayer, which looks deep into the spiritual reality of man as God's likeness, is far more than an optimistic belief in the better side of human nature. In fact, as the career of Christ Jesus illustrated, the inviolability of innocence is not dependent on the variables of human nature at all, but on the verities of Spirit.
Part of Mary Baker Eddy's n3 definition of the Bible term ''Lamb of God'' is ''self-immolation; innocence and purity.'' n4 Through his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus showed us that innocence is not an unprotected human quality but a powerful, God-derived one. He was led to the slaughter by the darkest instincts known in human history. But in his rising, the deviancies of the ages were shown powerless before the enduring majesty of purity, self-immolation, and innocence.
n3 The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science.
n4 Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 590
We can see ourselves and all our fellowmen washed clean in the spiritual innocence that is the birthright of man.