A recent Monitor article, "The appeal of innocence," reported: "In film, adult innocents usually are plagued with either terrible mental or physical problems, or they are heroes of science fiction or fantasy" (Feb. 15). The article pointed out that it is usually the role of children, not adults, to portray innocence in film.
The sad fact of today's culture, however, is that children, too, are being deprived of innocence. While many worthwhile efforts are being made to protect children, the larger problem - finding and preserving the spiritual innocence of humanity - needs to be addressed.
One issue to face is blame - blaming ourselves or others, or even God, for what's wrong. One day, after paralyzing hours of self-accusation, I cried out in exasperation, "God, if You can't make somebody better than me, that's Your problem, not mine." This outburst made me realize that my constant sense of guilt was accusing God, the creator, of incompetence.
Over the many years since then, this realization has helped me shut out senseless accusation but has not diminished the desire and ability to face up to whatever needs correction. The fact is that the real, spiritual nature of each one of us is Godlike. We are all the innocent children of the one Father-Mother God.
The Bible quotes Jesus as saying, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein" (Luke 18:17). The corollary is that as we achieve the innocence inherent to childhood, we enter the kingdom of God here and now.
Furthermore, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote: "The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 4). This union of prayer and the struggle to be good is more essential today than ever before. For example, established mainstream corporations, through expansion, are literally selling pornography. Acts of sensualism and selfishness are finding surprising acceptance. Being and staying good demands the alertness of prayer.
The prayer that seeks to know and do God's will brings humility to our lives. Humility not only helps us find the right direction but also enables us to quickly identify missteps. In seeking forgiveness for such missteps, prayer is an active agent.
I have long been interested by two different translations of a line from the Lord's Prayer. In one, we ask to be forgiven our debts, and in the other we ask for forgiveness of transgressions. I find both petitions helpful. Sins of omission as well as sins of commission must be forsaken. Failure to do good is as lacking in innocence as is wrongdoing. Forgiveness for both, however, accompanies genuine repentance and restores innocence - an innocence less vulnerable to temptation.
The bedrock that supports such petitions and which promises the granting of them is the understanding that God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil," as the prophet Habakkuk said centuries ago (1:13). Then we can say that evil, from the smallest mistake to the largest crime, is not in God's purview. Both receive punishment, though differing according to their degree of harm. The perpetrator, if genuinely repentant, is restored to usefulness. I know of one instance, and I believe there are many, of a person who truly repented of a crime that had put him in jail, and who made no effort to find release from imprisonment. He willingly stayed right where he was, taking up the ministry and reconciling his fellow inmates to God.
Couldn't we say that this man, now innocent and free from committing crime, is regaining his spiritual innocence? Since God doesn't play favorites, isn't it possible for everyone to awaken to their sins and forsake them and enjoy adult innocence?
The unending litany of self-disappointment and false accusation keeps us on a low level of living. Vacillating between listening to the accuser's voice or that of the tempter, we too often fail in our struggle to be good. Awakening from, instead of going over and over such indiscretions, brings a new view not only of ourselves but of others as well, and helps lift everyone above whatever would condemn us to eternal punishment. Punishment is needed only for the purpose of forsaking evil; it is not an end in itself. When prayer and meditation open our hearts to hearing God's voice, we find our truly innocent stature as children of God.