Finding Innocence

From Rev. Erik Buss, Assistant to the Pastor
October 22, 2019

When we look at children, we can marvel at their unselfconscious innocence. There is so much charm in their willingness to trust and to see the good in things. The spontaneous affection they can show pierces my heart, as I’m sure it does yours.

Children’s innocence is beautiful but brittle because children are helpless to protect themselves. We adults are the keepers of innocence in children, something that can seem increasingly hard to do in the modern era. As a grandfather – more than as a father – I think about and yearn to protect and nurture that innocence in young children.

On the other side of the age spectrum, we know that as we grow and do our spiritual work we can achieve a second innocence, one that is not naive but wise. I love the innocence I see in elders who have wisdom and love shining out of their eyes at the same time. We younger adults can do one or the other at times, but getting both in there is harder, at least for me.

New Church teaching says the following about developing innocence: “The good of innocence, which is the good of love to the Lord, is not received by those who belong to the spiritual Church unless they exercise self-compulsion; for the belief that the Lord is the only God, and also that His Human is Divine, does not come easily to them. Therefore, since they are short of faith, no love to Him, or consequently any good of innocence, can be present in them unless they exercise self-compulsion.” (Arcana Coelestia 7914) What strikes me about this teaching is the self-compulsion idea. We can easily think of innocence as a state of being, like children or old people have. But here the Lord says innocence is a choice, and not only that but one we make by compelling ourselves when we don’t feel like doing it. I don’t normally think of making myself do the right thing as innocence, but here it seems it might be! The choice to trust and follow the Lord is as real as spontaneous trust.

Another important aspect of this teaching is that it shows that innocence comes from believing that the Lord Jesus Christ is God and that His Human is Divine. Just as a child needs a relationship with parents, he or she can see, so we need a relationship with a visible Heavenly Father we can know and trust. What’s so striking is that the passage seems to be saying we need to compel ourselves to focus on the Lord as a visible God who made his Humanity Divine. We can think that we see Him as we see Him, but the Lord here says we can choose to see Him as that loving presence that we can turn to with childlike trust and desire to please.

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