Let’s start by defining innocence. When we watch children play and get struck by the thought, “They’re so innocent,” what are we observing that elicits this reaction? One dimension of their innocence is their innate sense of safety that allows them to believe everything will be okay; a sense that life is fair.
One reason this innocence stands out to us as adults is that we’ve lost it. We don’t live with an innate sense of safety. We know it takes a lot of hard work and a bit of good fortune for things to be okay. The idea that life is fair is one we released a long time ago. And, all of this, is normal adulthood; adulthood without the kind of experience that would make us angry with God.
This loss of innocence often goes by another name – maturity. Maturity is a good thing. Maturity means we anticipate problems, plan for the future we desire, and learn to respond wisely to the unfairness that exists in a broken world. Maturity is resourceful, observant, and invests the future. Innocence lives fully in the moment without a care in the world.
Faith often gets disoriented at the intersection of innocence and maturity. There is a common portrayal of faith that equates faith with a naïve innocence that is blindly optimistic about any hard situation. Conversations with someone who believes a “strong faith” is an “innocent faith” go something like this:
Person A: “I don’t know how I’m going to pay the bills after my injury and losing my job.”
Person B: “Don’t worry about tomorrow. God has it. He’s got cattle on a thousand hills and will take care of everything.”
Person 1: “That person took advantage of me. I don’t trust them and don’t think you should either.”
Person 2: “We should believe the best about everyone, because we’re sinners just like they are. God didn’t give up on us.”
Person Y: “I don’t think my life will ever be the same after [traumatic experience].”
Person Z: “You can trust God has a great plan for your life and won’t waste any of your suffering.”
As we think about rekindling our faith after an experience that caused us to stagnate in the anger phase of grief, we fear conversations with Persons B, 2, and Z. We absolutely refuse to become like them. This is why we can have an allergic reaction of anger to the possibility of embracing hope again. We feel like hope is a return to false innocence. But embracing hope is a core component of healthy grieving.
That brings us to our question for this reflection, “What does a healthy-but-less-innocent faith look like and how do we cultivate it?” Stated another way, “How do we honor the maturity that comes with profoundly painful experiences without undermining hope in God’s goodness and love for us?” It is possible. It is not easy. It is worth it.
Assessing Persons B, 2, and Z
What is the biggest problem with these responses? Much of what they say could have Bible verses in parentheticals after it. That makes it feel like if we don’t like what they’re saying then we’re arguing with God. Their surprised and disapproving look after we don’t embrace their optimism only reinforces this notion.
There are at least three problems: pacing, lament, and perspective. The problem of pacing is how quickly they move towards pronouncing everything okay. If, as you accelerate a car, you skip from first gear to fifth gear, you will blow out the transmission. That is what we do to our souls when we try to (or feel forced to) skip from mourning to rejoicing. The combustion comes out as anger.
The problem of lament is their seeming inability to “weep with those who weep.” Notice something about the context for the simple verse, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). It occurs just moments before Jesus was about to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. The sinless son of God did not rush his own or anyone else’s emotions. We can take from this that God-honoring faith sometimes cries and is willing to be sad.
The problem of perspective is that they are forcing an end-of-the-journey perspective on a middle-of-the-journey moment. Imagine getting to be a voice over in the movie The Lord of the Rings. Imagine in every scene where Frodo is weary and discouraged you yelled, “Cheer up! You win! So, this moment really isn’t that bad!” Even though the second statement is true – Frodo wins – it doesn’t validate the first or third statement. Cheerfulness would not be situationally appropriate. The moment is bad and should be honored as such.
When faith in hard times is assumed to be fast, cheerful, and culminated, it has mutated into naivety. We don’t have to disagree with the biblical truths Persons B, 2, and Z are trying to affirm to be dissatisfied with what they are calling faith. When life is hard, the song of faith will be played in the minor key; that is, faith can have notes of weariness and discouragement in it.
Less Innocent Faith
We should start by stating that “less innocent” faith is not “less good” or “less strong” faith. It may be more cautious. However, the quality of the faith and degree to which it honors God does not need to be diminished simply because it lacks innocence that was present before our painful experience.
Let’s use a biblical parallel. Do you remember the story of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4)? Jesus said her gift, although financially small, was great in value because it was given at greater sacrifice. When faith is expressed out of trust-poverty, a comparable principle is active.
God knows and appreciates the sacrifice from which our faith is given. Even if the measurements are accurate, the “larger” expression of innocent faith is not more precious in God’s sight than the “smaller” expression of less innocent faith.
Imagine two brothers on the same baseball team. One got hit in the face and broke his nose while batting. Later, after recovering, they play in the same game again. The son whose nose was broken hits a single, the other brother hits a triple. Which son are the parents prouder of?
This story helps us realize that, with a good parent, achievement is not the only factor that correlates with affirmation. What is being overcome, not just the outcome, determines how a loving parent assesses a moment. When there is less innocence in our faith after a profoundly painful experience, God gets it. God responds to wounded faith like Jesus responded to the widow’s mite.When there is less innocence in our faith after a profoundly painful experience, God gets it. God responds to wounded faith like Jesus responded to the widow’s mite. Click To Tweet
As we prepare, in the upcoming reflections, to consider what less innocent faith looks like and how to cultivate it, your primary takeaway from this reflection is, less innocent faith is precious in the eyes of God. It is good, even if its context was bad. It will be honored, even though you may fear it will be shamed.
The question is, “Do you believe this? Do you value less innocent faith?” If not, you may chide what God cherishes. You may feel embarrassed about what God admires. If this is you, take a moment to reflect on I Corinthians 1:27b-30.
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
God has never bought into the economy of achievement, size, and grandeur that we are prone to embrace. The comparative thinking that causes us to think our faith is behind the faith of others has never been a part of God’ scoring system. Even before we were hurt, God wanted us to be free from this type of thinking.
We need to learn to express a less innocent faith as a healthy faith and allow it to facilitate healthier emotions. That is where we will turn our attention next. But we can rest in the reality that God will receive this less innocent faith with all the enthusiasm and joy he receives from any other flavor of faith.
Questions for Reflection
- What are the “Persons B, 2, Z responses” that you fear or brace against?
- In your own words, how name and describe the “less innocent faith” described in this reflection?
* * * This article is part of a series entitled Anger with God: Grappling with God Amidst Life’s Greatest Pains and Betrayals.