If ever we’re tempted to compare childlike innocence with weakness, consider Malala Yousafzai. The teenage Pakistani insisted on the simple concept of a girl’s right to gain an education. The meekness with which she spoke was not timidity or fear, but the innocence of conviction and justice.
When opponents radically opposed to women’s rights tried to stop the message by attacking the messenger, their action accomplished just the opposite. Violence against an unarmed child focused worldwide attention on the very issue it was intended to suppress. It triggered a wave of support, prayer, and compassion. It swelled a rising tide of rebellion against oppression. Malala’s triumph is not the first time that innocence has the last word.
Sometimes I wonder what might have been going through the minds of those who were watching a shepherd boy centuries ago as he was confronted by a hostile warrior. Hearts must have been moved by the innocence of David as he stood before Goliath. But perhaps even more important was the courage with which he faced enmity. David was innocent, but not naive. He was well aware that Goliath was heavily armed with weapons of war and that he knew how to use them. He even acknowledged that Goliath was coming to the battle with a sword and a spear and a shield. But what came next made all the difference. David announced that he was coming to the battle, not with weapons of warfare but in the name of God. With the meekness and might of such innocence, the simple shepherd boy won the battle, not only for himself but for all his people.
Mary Baker Eddy, an unassuming woman of the 19th century, envisioned the innocence of man, as the image and likeness of God, to be a healing impetus among humanity so powerful that it would stir human thought to a radical change. In her major work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she wrote, “In this revolutionary period, like the shepherd-boy with his sling, woman goes forth to battle with Goliath” (p. 268). The purity of her love for God and man was expressed in a fervent desire to follow Christ Jesus, whom John the Baptist referred to as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). She defines “Lamb of God,” in part, as “innocence and purity” (Science and Health, p. 590). Jesus presented to the world the greatest example of the meekness and might of innocence that humanity has ever seen.
Jesus established meekness when he said he could of himself do nothing (see John 5:30). But through the grandeur of his spiritual nature, the Christ, he demonstrated the mighty power of innocence. He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed multitudes. He taught his followers to dissolve hatred with spiritual love. His mandate was to love even the enemy, and he demonstrated the protecting power of divine Love when he walked unharmed through the midst of an angry mob (see Luke 4:28-30). Even on the cross he forgave those who had put him there. Then, with his resurrection, he proved that nothing could destroy the mighty power of Christly innocence.
Innocence is more than just “not guilty.” Its rich meaning includes purity of thought and character that relates to the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Because God is omnipotent and infinite, we find in such purity the strong spiritual qualities that companion innocence, such as freedom from deception, fear, guile, and offensiveness. The term itself comes from a word meaning harmless, not injurious. Innocence includes a morality and decency as pure as a child. When Jesus urged his followers to become as little children, he surely embraced the simplicity of childlike innocence. However meekly it is expressed humanly, innocence has its roots in the omnipotence of God.
As we learn the meekness and might of childlike innocence, we can begin to comprehend how it can change the world. The goal is not to destroy the enemy, but to dissolve enmity itself. The aim is to erase the boundaries between brothers and sisters – to triumph over injustice and tyranny, ignorance and intolerance. When mankind learns to obey the command to love God first, and our neighbor as ourselves, we will cherish the childlike innocence of the Malalas of this world. Then we will understand the great promise of peace in this scriptural prophecy: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).