The quest for innocence

A Christian Science perspective.

Recently I was happy to read of another hard-won success story involving the Innocence Project, in which an innocent man’s conviction was overthrown after an incarceration of almost four decades. I was further impressed by the news media’s account (CNN, Dec. 17, 2009) that the man felt no animosity even though his years of youth had been lost. He expressed his strong faith in God, saying to reporters, “I knew one day He will reveal me.”

The Innocence Project, an organization closely associated with Yeshiva University in New York City, is dedicated to using DNA testing to free those wrongly incarcerated and to reform the judicial process of systemic errors. This news story reminded me of a statement by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor: “Let Truth uncover and destroy error in God’s own way, and let human justice pattern the divine” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 542). The biblical vision of God as unchanging Truth is, I believe, a strong foundation for efforts to establish verifiable innocence.

This media account also prompted me to think about innocence from a spiritual standpoint. In God’s sight, all of us – of whatever faith, nationality, ethnicity; wherever we sleep at night, whether in our own dwellings, a homeless shelter, or prison – are His children. He loves all of us, and He sees all of us in our true nature, which is pure, perfect, and innocent. The prophet Habakkuk addresses God with the words, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab. 1:13), and other biblical verses tell us that God is all-seeing. What God sees is the totality of His creation, and it all is perfect.

What then about the evil we see or read about in the press? If it is not seen by an infinite God, the only conclusion I can come to is that evil must at some point be seen to be unreal or illusory. Now it doesn’t seem all that illusory in the here-and-now of human experience. In fact, acts of criminality always seem to be the content of my hometown newspaper’s front pages. And one of my first jobs after college was working in crime analysis for a large city’s police department as we prepared our computer systems for interactive operations with the FBI. Felonies and other offenses against society were our daily fare.

Yet God’s view of us as perfect gives me hope, because it says that rehabilitation of the guilty and freedom from incarceration for those wrongfully convicted both have the same basis – our genuine spirituality and goodness. This nature is ineradicable because of our unbroken relationship with God as His image and likeness. Another citation from Science and Health declares, “Man as the offspring of God, as the idea of Spirit, is the immortal evidence that Spirit is harmonious and man eternal” (p. 29). In my prayers for myself, my family, and my community, I’ve loved thinking about individual men and women as evidence in themselves of the goodness of God, or Spirit.

That goodness is a light that cannot be extinguished. And while it may be a long time before human existence is crime-free, our prayers can help pave the way for more success stories from organizations like the Innocence Project, and more lives rehabilitated within the penal system. Prayerfully affirming that the man or woman of God’s creation is free from sin will contribute to the establishment of a purer mental climate. This will make it easier for humanity as a whole to reject the temptations and pressures to become involved in criminal acts and for innocence to be seen as the natural state of each of us, God’s image.

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