THE BIBLE AND ORIGINAL INNOCENCE

THERE ARE few moments more full of hope and possibility than the birth of a long-awaited child. Perhaps that's because the innocence of the child speaks to the innocence in us. This may be why the prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah's birth as fulfilling a deep and universal longing: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).

You might be wondering what the birth of this child has to do with your own life. After all, while we all may be born with a modicum of innocence—or is it just inexperience?—we then grow, change, make mistakes, do wrong, and maybe hurt others, and sometimes suffer immediate or delayed guilt.

Without our even realizing it, reasoning along these lines might lead right into a false conception of our beginnings and our destiny that seeks to justify, explain, and even invite all kinds of trouble. The allegory of Adam and Eve (see Gen. 2:6—4:24) portrays this banal chain reaction: Mortal men and women are dust-born, duped, disobedient, and doomed to repeat the cycle of mortality. The doctrine of original sin—the belief that the tendency to do wrong is innate in men and women, as the result of Eve's and Adam's disobedience—is rooted in this account.

But what if that was a race we were never meant to run: a birth-death dash, with heaven/hell across the blind line? Or a birth/maturity/decline marathon to and from blind oblivion? So long as the fundamental belief of life in matter—"Adam"—is taken at face value and left unchallenged, we are basically circling the same track of "dust to dust." And that leads into some pretty deep ruts. No wonder some of our faulty habits and mistakes, as individuals and as a human community, seem so ingrained. And this fundamental error is the origin not only of sin, but also of sickness and death.

Even those who dismiss an Adam/Eve theological frame of reference may find their lives confined along lines similar to the children of Eden. And even when the story is dismissed out of hand, its deterministic presuppositions—that people love wrong more than right, or are drawn to it more than right—are sometimes unconsciously left intact. Could it be that understanding the Adam/Eve saga in a different light—not as fact, but as allegory—holds a key to reclaiming our innocence? As Mary Baker Eddy explained, "Spiritually followed, the book of Genesis is the history of the untrue image of God, named a sinful mortal." She continued, "This deflection of being, rightly viewed, serves to suggest the proper reflection of God and the spiritual actuality of man, as given in the first chapter of Genesis" (Science and Health, p. 502).

Many people do not know that another, diametrically different account of creation precedes the Adam and Eve story in Genesis. The first chapter of that book contrasts with, even contradicts, the garden of Eden narrative. While still employing metaphorical language—dividing creation into six days, with rest on the seventh day—its implications point away from Adam and Eve. Science and Health offers an apt summary of this first account when it asserts: "Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual" (p. 468).

Man refers specifically to all men and women. In fact, it refers to you, to what you truly are—and what you are not! To know that you are spiritual, not material, is to be Spirit's "image and likeness." We may feel, as Job did, that such things are "too wonderful" for us (Job 42:3), especially when we glimpse a little of what this implies: We are not an offense to God, but an heir of God! We are not products of chance reactions but intentioned reflections of Spirit. Realizing this—the "spiritual actuality of man" mentioned previously—is part of what it means to be "born again" as a child of Spirit, of God.

A new birth means to me a new start, to be worked out step by step in a redeemed life. Why repeat the same old story? Unlike belief in reincarnation, this new birth provides the possibility of real progress here and now.

As both "Wonderful" and "Counsellor," Christ Jesus taught: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. ... Ye must be born again" (John 3:6, 7). New birth takes us straight to questions of our origin: Whose child am I? The child of matter or the child of Spirit? We may try to hedge, like the Jewish ruler Nicodemus, who responded to Jesus' urging with a hint of a skeptical sneer: "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb ...?" (John 3:4). What would it mean to Nicodemus—and to us—to be embraced in new birth, to think and live out from Spirit, as Christ Jesus did? What would we learn about God and about ourselves? Would it allow us to more incisively cut to the core of a troubling problem? Would it make us quick to forgive, more understanding of our own, and others', mistakes, longing to learn whatever will allow us to do better in the future? Moving ahead requires both self-knowledge and charity, recognizing and removing what is wrong, with love.

The Bible offers many vivid examples of men and women who committed wrongs and suffered guilt, but who through spiritual awakening and forgiveness advanced to do good things. Figures such as Moses, Jacob, and David in the Old Testament, as well as Peter and Paul in the New Testament record. They all experienced the kind of spiritual rebirth that comes through the Christ-power.

A new birth means to me a new start, to be worked out step by step in a redeemed life. Why repeat the same old story over and again? Unlike belief in reincarnation, this new birth provides the possibility of real progress here now; now; we do not have to die physically to grow spiritually. The book Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896 by Mary Baker Eddy includes a thoughtful essay on this subject (see pages 15-20). It includes this passage: "The new birth is not the work of a moment. It begins with moments, and goes on with years; moments of surrender to God, of childlike trust and joyful adoption of good; moments of self-abnegation, self-consecration, heaven-born hope, and spiritual love" (p. 15).

Christly forgiveness restores innocence, and the weight of guilt begins to slip away as we forgive others. We often find our own freedom by helping others to be free.

When prayer starts with Spirit as the only Creator, we can begin to see a little of what God is and has made, including spiritual man. It's natural to cradle all humanity in this prayer, as we pray about own particular situation. Then, how hard can it be to forgive God's child?

It helps, however, to make a clear distinction, as Jesus did, between the old, material, Adam-based concept of man, and the spiritual man who is the image and likeness of Spirit. It is tempting to try to have it both ways—believing man is both spiritual and material, both good and evil—but this is the Eden model. Isaiah's prophecy, and the first record in Genesis, recognize man with "the government ... upon his [God's] shoulder," reflecting Spirit's law, revealing a new convention of being: man and woman "in Christ ... a new creature" (II Cor. 5:17).

This new creature, or "new creation" (as the New International Version translates), is the timeless "spiritual actuality of man" that Science and Health reveals. Isaiah sees the newborn idea as a child: "wonderful ... mighty," reflecting the "everlasting Father" (NIV). The inimitable Jesus lived the Christ, his sonship with God, in its fullest implications. He knew he was innocent of all charges against him, and he also restored and protected the innocence in others.

But Jesus did even more than this. He included each of us in his sonship—recognizing everyone as children of God, with our true origin and continuity in Spirit, not matter. Today, the living Christ still takes those in need by the hand and leads them toward a truer estimate of their worth.

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