Powerful Innocence

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 16, 2003


Daniel 6 Daniel in the lions' den

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three administrators, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other administrators and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. The men said, "We will not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God."

So the administrators and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, "O King Darius, live forever! All the administrators of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an decree, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked." Therefore King Darius signed the document and decree.

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. Then they approached the king and said concerning the decree, "O king! Did you not sign an decree that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?"

The king answered, "The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked."

Then they responded to the king, "Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day."

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, "Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed."

Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!" A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?"

Daniel then said to the king, "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found innocent before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong." Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions--they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.

Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: "May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:

For he is the living God,
     enduring forever.
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
     and his dominion has no end.
He delivers and rescues,
     he works signs and wonders
     in heaven and on earth;
for he has saved Daniel
     from the power of the lions."

So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Matthew 10:16 Wise as snakes, innocent as doves

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Arcana Coelestia #5608.9 Innocence of ignorance and of wisdom

The innocence of little children is all on the outside, and not on the inside. Since it is not on the inside, it cannot be united with any wisdom. But the innocence in angels, especially angels of the third heaven, is on the inside, so it is together with wisdom. We have been created so that when we grow old and become like little children, the innocence of wisdom unites itself to the innocence of ignorance that we had when we were little children. In this state we pass over into the next life as true little children.


Daniel said to the king, "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found innocent before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong." (Daniel 6:21, 22)

Not many people these days want to be thought of as innocent--unless, of course, they happen to be a defendant in a court case. Come to think of it, innocence other than the legal kind has rarely been considered a highly desirable character trait. Innocence brings to our mind naiveté, childishness, weakness. And in this world of money, power, and business, we generally prefer to project an air of sophistication, maturity, and power. If someone were to say to us, "You're so innocent," it would probably not be meant as a compliment. And the last thing we want to be called is "childish."

Yet Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15). And Swedenborg, echoing this teaching of Jesus in more abstract language, says in several places, "No one can enter heaven without some measure of innocence" (Arcana Coelestia #2780, 3519, 3994.2). Elsewhere he reports that the higher the heaven, the greater the innocence of the angels who live there. Yet contrary to the world's viewpoint, he says that along with the increase of innocence in the higher heavens, there is also an increase in power. This is not the weak innocence that the world holds in contempt, but a powerful innocence.

How could innocence be powerful? And why should it be so desirable, so essential, that we cannot get into heaven without it?

To get at the answers to these questions, it might help to explore more fully the meaning of innocence. My dictionary gives no less than six definitions of innocence. Two of them relate to the naïve kind of innocence that our society finds so undesirable. They can be summarized by the words "inexperienced" and "unaware"--or to use a somewhat less positive word, "ignorant." Another definition deals with the legal meaning of innocence: being not guilty of a crime or of unethical behavior. Related to this is the sense of innocence as being not dangerous or harmful. There is also the sense of being simple, honest, and without guile. And closest to a more spiritual definition of innocence is the first definition in my dictionary: "Uncorrupted by evil, malice, or wrongdoing; sinless; untainted; pure."

Most of these definitions stay fairly close to the derivation of the word "innocent" from two Latin words that mean "not to harm." And if we consider innocence of character as the source of innocence in our actions, then all of these definitions have to do with not doing any harm. If we are uncorrupted by evil and malice, we will not do harm. And if we are inexperienced and unaware, we generally don't have the capacity to do harm--or at least, not to do intentional harm.

Most of these definitions also verge toward what Swedenborg would call "the innocence of ignorance." This is the innocence of young children who can't be charged with wrong because they don't know any better. Even being "uncorrupted by evil" can imply that we simply haven't dealt with evil so far, and therefore have not been corrupted by it.

This kind of innocence could be called "negative innocence," in the sense that we are innocent because something is lacking. And the something that is lacking is the knowledge or experience of what evil is. This is the innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Until they had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they had neither a concept of evil nor any experience of evil.

Unfortunately, this kind of innocence tends to be quite fragile. The innocence of young children requires the protection of parents and other responsible adults to protect it. Without that protection, if children are exposed to human evil, they can sustain profound damage whose scars may persist throughout their entire lifetimes. Naïve adults are also subject to deception and abuse, and can often be led astray by cunning people with ulterior motives. Whole populations that are mired in ignorance or misinformation can be carried along by unscrupulous and self-serving leaders, who paint a false picture for the people, and induce them to support and to do things they would reject if they knew their true character.

A parallel to the innocence of infancy is the innocence of isolated, primitive tribes of people before they have come into contact with more civilized cultures. Even if they have continued in their tribal ways and their harmony with nature for thousands of years, these cultures tend to disintegrate fairly rapidly when faced with modern civilization. In North America, the Native Americans were decimated by alcoholism, disease, war, and oppression, so that within two centuries of the arrival of Europeans in the New World, their cultures were a shadow of their former proud selves. Similar fates have overtaken many ancient cultures in South America and Africa. Like the innocence of infants and young children, these fragile cultures in the early stages of human development depend on the protection of a large buffer zone of wilderness isolating them from corrupting influences.

This is why Swedenborg, in our reading from Arcana Coelestia, says that the innocence of little children is all on the outside. There is a shell--almost a halo--of innocence surrounding infants and young children. And yet, it is a shell that is easily pierced, and a halo that can be quickly snuffed out. It is an innocence based on inexperience and lack of knowledge. It is the innocence of not knowing any better, and of not having the capability to do any harm.

Physically, babies and small children do not have the strength to inflict any real harm on those who care for them, or even on their older siblings. Even though they may flail their fists around and sometimes connect, no one gets hurt. This is a physical image of their spiritual state: their minds and their wills are still undeveloped, and do not yet have the knowledge or the force to do any harm. Parallel to this, primitive societies are generally unable to do great damage to the ecosystem because they lack the scientific knowledge and the technology that is required to inflict major ecological damage.

Back to the individual, as babies and small children grow into older children, teenagers, and adults, this all changes. Spiritually, we grow in knowledge and in the power of our will. Physically, we grow in height and strength. When we reach the traditional age when our schooling begins, we are beginning to have the ability to inflict real pain.

By the time we reach our pre-teen and teenage years, that ability has become an established fact. At the same time, we are continually gaining in our knowledge and awareness of what is right and wrong, so that when we do hurt someone else--either physically or emotionally--we are often quite well aware of the fact that we are doing so. As this change takes place in us, our early innocence of ignorance wanes. Those cute things we did as babies stop being so cute, and instead of having a childlike innocence, we can become just plain childish. The early but external innocence of our infancy is gone.

Yet even in the innocence of ignorance--the innocence of not knowing any better--there is a certain spiritual power. Even the most hardened person will occasionally feel some tenderness in the presence of a baby. I am reminded of a story about an Eastern master training a strong and proud young warrior, who believed he was more than a match for any possible opponent. When his master informed him that there was someone far more powerful than he in the room, he bristled, raised himself up to his full height, and demanded to be brought to this worthy opponent so that he might show his prowess in combat. When brought to the opponent, this muscle-bound warrior was soon crouching on the floor, reduced to cooing and making silly faces. You see, his opponent was a little baby, whose aura of innocence completely overcame the young, headstrong warrior.

Swedenborg also tells us that because of their innocence, all babies and children who die are brought to heaven, raised there, and become angels. Since they have done no wrong from moral choice or evil intent, but rather any wrong they have done was done in ignorance of its true nature, and in mere reaction to their inborn natures and their social environment, no evil has become permanently attached to their souls. Therefore the evil spirits who would attack them and drag them down to hell can have no power over them, and any evil acquired in the world is shed relatively easily, just like the clothing that children outgrow so quickly.

Moving a little beyond the pure innocence of ignorance, there is also a certain power in the (still negative) innocence of having done no wrong. Yes, courts can be corrupt, or simply mistaken, and innocent people do sometimes get wrongly convicted and punished for crimes they did not commit. Still, an innocent person going into a courtroom as a defendant has a much greater chance of being acquitted than a guilty person. And outside the courtroom, in human relations generally, if we are innocent of any wrong, and keep our hands clean, then like Daniel, though the attacks may come and we may have to spend our night of darkness in the den with the fearsome lions, the night will finally be over--whether it takes days, weeks, or years--and we will emerge shaken, but unscathed.

However, there is another, higher meaning of innocence that may be implied, but is not spelled out in the common dictionary definitions. There is a positive kind of innocence that is not merely a lack of knowledge and experience, nor even a lack of wrongdoing. The innocence of young children comes not only from their lack of knowledge and experience, but also from their realization, consciously or unconsciously, that they need to follow the guidance of their parents, teachers, and other caretakers who are older and wiser than they are. Young children will, without any sense of embarrassment, come and ask to have their shoes tied, or for something to eat, or to be comforted when hurt. In our early stages, we have not yet built up the pride and pretensions of ego that prevent us as adults from asking directions or allowing ourselves to be led and guided by another person.

In children, this type of positive innocence, which is the willingness to be led by another person, is still largely based on ignorance and inexperience. Still, it is an early manifestation of a far more powerful innocence that can develop in us only over a lifetime of experience in the struggles of this world and the struggles of our soul. You see, as we move on in this life, the pride and self-assuredness of our adolescent and early adult years takes a severe beating. We encounter experiences in life in which even if we use our greatest mental powers and focus all our energies on accomplishing some goal or overcoming some bad habit or addiction, we fail. And through those failures, we learn a crucial lesson: that we are not self-sufficient; that we do not have the intelligence nor the strength of will to go it alone. We discover that we need to rely on a wisdom and a power greater than our own.

It is only through the experience of painful defeats in this world that we finally come to this realization. It is only when we have tried our best from our own strength, and have been defeated, that we begin to recognize our own human weakness and ignorance. For most of us, it is only after we have passed through the greater part of our working life that we truly "get it," and realize that we cannot rely on ourselves; that we must, instead, put our trust and reliance in the Lord's greater power and wisdom.

This, my friends, is the innocence of wisdom. It is the innocence of having seen all the evil that the world has to offer, of having suffered at its hands, and coming out from that crucible a transformed person, ready at last to trust and follow the Lord in everything we do. It is the innocence of Daniel that saves us from the jaws of the devouring lions of evil ways and false ideas, not by our own power, but by trusting in the infinite power of the Lord. It is the powerful innocence of being in the flow of God's providence and God's love. Amen.




SiteMap Home



Music: I Will Watch Over You
©2003 Bruce DeBoer