Innocence, Guilt, Disillusionment, Hope and the Human Condition

There are some things in which age and perspective provide a distinct advantage…..faith, hope, and love are among them. If one is spiritually inclined toward a biblical worldview one can always rest in the assurance that “it all ends well”, maybe not in the troubles of all the world in one’s own lifetime, but across the ages and in the end, God’s will is going to be done. And it will be good. And even in one’s own lifetime, if one is faithful in trusting and committing her life to God, she can depend on coming to the end of her own days with a sense of having done all that she was supposed to have done and can leave the world in the hands of those who come behind, trusting that God will show them their tasks and the way forward, too.
Hermann Hesse (1877 – 1962) was a German-born poet, novelist, and painter. Raised in a well-educated, philosophy and religion-rich environment, his works explore an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Hesse offered this way of thinking about our adventure in living as a pilgrimage- a journey with no well-defined destination in terms of “place”, but more of a destination in terms of development of knowledge, wisdom, character, peace, and commitment to those things that we believe and live.
He said, “…..three stages of human development are known to me…..
The path of human faith development begins with innocence. A childlike- state, similar to that of Adam and Eve at creation in Eden’s paradise. One has no sense of onerous responsibility pressing upon him. There is a sense of protected invincibility, a naïve lack of awareness of the suffering in life.
From there the path leads to guilt, to the knowledge of good and evil, to the demands of culture, for morality, for religions, for human ideals. For everyone who passes through this stage seriously and as a differentiated and maturing human being it ends unfailingly in disillusionment, that is, with the insight that no perfect virtue, no complete obedience, no adequate service exists, that righteousness is unreachable, that consistent goodness in unattainable. This is exactly what Solomon, the most wise man to have ever lived discovered in his own pilgrimage: He described it this way: “ All is vanity.“ Our disillusionment with life and despair over what becomes a clear-eyed view of the suffering and injustice in life and our own inadequacy to right the wrongs of the world leads either to defeat or to a third stage,
The third stage it that of living in the spirit, to the experience of a condition beyond morality and the letter of the law into a deeper, more profound awareness of the spirit of the law, an advance into grace and release to a new, higher kind of irresponsibility, or to put it briefly: to faith.
That “irresponsibility” that accompanies living in this spirit realm from a Christian worldview, is the realization that it is God who is sovereign, not mankind. Any control or authority that we think we have is an illusion. We have only a caretaker role over God’s creation that was given to humanity at creation. It’s all his. No matter which forms and expressions the faith assumes, its content is always the same: that we should certainly strive for good insofar as we are able, but that we are not responsible for the imperfections of this world or even for our own, that we do not govern ourselves but are governed, and that governance, above our understanding, is God whose servants we are and to which we are invited to surrender ourselves.
The apostle John offers us a biblical correlation of these 3 stages of spiritual human development, as well.
1 John 2:12-14 He says, I write to you, children- “your sins are forgiven” (you are without blame, you are innocent!), to you, youth- “…the voice of God remains and is heard among you; you have discerned good from evil” (you are aware of the suffering and injustice of the world), and to you, fathers and mothers- “you have known Him as the Creator, as the One who started everything.” (You have recognized the sovereignty of God over all that is and know that his presence, goodness, and love will overcome in time and in keeping with his perfect will.) John’s definition of the three stages of faith development and their relationship to moral life are the same as those defined by Hesse and follow the same process experienced and confirmed by Solomon in Ecclesiastes.
These three stages of life- naïve innocence, youthful passion in seeing the injustice and suffering of life and efforts to make sense of it and of righting the wrongs, and the mature realization that any control we think we have is an illusion. We can do only what God has equipped and called us to do and leave justice and the fulfillment of righteousness to God’s will, way, and timing. It is a call to trust the work of Christ’s atonement, do what we can where we are, and await the fullness of God’s time in bringing Heaven to Earth.