Immaculate Naïveté

What do we imagine is the nature of God’s point of contact with any part of creation? Can God, does God, intervene?… Those who allow themselves to think about God and God’s relation to the universe find sooner or later that their feet are no longer on solid rock but walking on water with five fathoms of uncertainty beneath them.1 —John V. Taylor

I can still remember when I discovered that prayer might be good for finding things. A few friends and I were playing ball late in the afternoon in a glade near the acres of an abandoned vineyard. In front of the tree line behind us, there was a bank of grass, thick-bladed and tall, growing lushly. I was playing outfield, stomping around, waiting for a fly-ball. When it came, up and up against the orange light spurting through the trees, I lost it for a moment as I stumbled backward. When I thrashed through the tall grass, trying to keep my footing and still track the ball, I tumbled, legs in the air, arms thrown wide, my glove landing a few feet away. The runner was circling the bases and the ball, a gleaming white softball, had disappeared.

It couldn’t have gone far, but no one in the infield had seen where it landed. I crashed around for a minute or two, expecting to pick it up and hurl it to home plate. But it was gone, like it had been swallowed in mid-air by a pterodactyl. My friends shouted at me to hurry up; we were trying to even the score with one last inning before we all had to run for home and chores and supper.

I ran up and down that stretch of grass, tracing an expanding grid. I tried to calculate the arc of the trajectory. I stamped the grass methodically. I got down on my knees and combed the grass the way you would a horse’s mane. Nothing. A couple of friends ran up to join me as I felt around in the gathering twilight.

I had the memory of a Bible verse, something about, “He has counted the hairs of your head,” tedious and pointless work, in my opinion. But there was another one — “he cares for the sparrows” — that seemed the right level of detail for a loving God in charge of the universe, though I had to admit that by comparison, the loss of a baseball was in the negative end of the scale. But I was getting desperate and my friends had gone, leaving me and another friend to find it or go home. So I prayed, bent over as I searched, and when I straightened up there it was, nestled in a clump of grass I must have gone over several times. With a shout, I grabbed it up and we ran for home in the twilight, the ball glowing like a stranded moon in my hand.

With the eyes of a lifetime, I look back to that boy running joyfully for home, his prayer answered. Should I stop him to say that prayer is about more than finding lost toys? Should I ask him what he’ll do the next time he prays, say, for the life of a friend’s mother, and she dies? What is God’s providence? Does he have his eye upon the sparrow and the softball? Can we say with certainty that our lives and those of our loved ones are always within God’s reach?

I was grateful that God (as I saw it) helped me find the softball. I’ve had many other moments since, when looking back I saw that the pieces of my life at certain intersections fell into a coherent pattern. I don’t know how providence “works.” I certainly can’t predict the outcome looking forward nor should I demand the outcome that I want without putting my effort and my faith into it. “It is not meaningless to thank God for a particular event or for the course of a lifetime, despite being unable to explain the way in which God gave it that form,” muses John V. Taylor in his The Christlike God.2


Think of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting, “The Creation of Adam,” with God extending a finger toward Adam, who lounges back against the verdure. He looks lazy and I want to say, “On your feet, man! This is God reaching out to you!” But perhaps I am too hasty to judgment. God is the first being Adam has seen. He hasn’t even seen himself yet. If he doesn’t stretch to meet God’s outthrust arm, it’s probably because he’s only gradually becoming aware of where he ends, and God begins.

With an immaculate naiveté, Adam will trust the flying, whirling, wind-blown muscular God, who has launched himself across the heavens, surrounded by cherubim. Only later will he know distance and regret and shame. For now, he is awakening to the face of glory. This is the first day of the rest of his life — and all life, as it happens.

Let us say that God has called us in as consultants to Adam. Arriving from the future and with the hindsight of thousands of years, we’ve seen more good and evil than he ever will. What have we learned?

Evil is what sears itself into memory we might tell him, although once you’ve catalogued the primary sins, what follows is a tedious but deadly repetition, with the only remarkable deviations being those of scale. Yet, for all that we did not seem to learn from our history.

We first blamed the deities for the elemental forces of floods, avalanches, fires, earthquakes. Later, when we better understood the chain of events, we described them as the laws of nature, and when we broke them there were consequences. It took time, a lot of time, but it became clear that there would be an accounting for our greed and lawlessness against the Garden. Some wanted to call it the judgment of God; it was rather that Nature would always redress our imbalances with a blind, impersonal power that was awesome and horrifying.

If we could offer moral advice to the First Man, what would it be? Do we want to say, “Don’t eat that fruit!,” and then have to explain what fruit is and how you eat it and what eating is, and then why he shouldn’t do the very thing we’ve spent precious minutes instructing him to do? Or maybe you want to say in a whisper, “God is going to give you a creature who is lovely and mysterious and has a mind of her own. Don’t presume for a minute that she is any less than your equal.” Maybe we can head off the sin of sexism before it begins.

And then there were two. Eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, both of good and evil, is their primal step out over the abyss. Lovely to look at, intensely desired, this knowledge with which they take their futures into their own hands is irresistible. The serpent lies: they do not die. They are as beautiful and as vital as ever. Precariously, they take their first timid steps out across this narrow finger of stone. On the other side is the unknown. They are in this together, for better or for worse, until death they do part.

Adam and Eve stand on the other side of the abyss, trembling but exultant. “We made it!” Then as they turn to look back at the Garden they freeze, bewildered. The bridge is gone, they are alone. There is no going back; they face a featureless plain on which they must carve, in labor, their own future.

We might explain the expulsion from the Garden as recorded historical truth or simply a curiously nostalgic folktale. Or, better, we see the story laying bare the God-shaped hole inside ourselves as we toil in the city, far across the plains from the gate to the Garden. Then perhaps we will say to the two of them, “Live in your God-given freedom, let your mistakes be your own. Learn to trust going forward, for God can bring good out of this.”

“Live with trust,” we might say to them, “and love, for love casts out fear and violence is fear without a conscience. Temper your justice with mercy and apply both with compassion. Take on the suffering of others. Put yourself in the place of another, even someone you hate; there are many ways to seek justice.”

In the absence of the knowledge of good and evil, trust is unnecessary. Immaculate naïveté will suffice at first, but true freedom cannot develop. Within the constraints of the freedom God has given us to care for this earth and for each other, God works with us as agents who are responsive and responsible. In the strength of the Spirit, as we follow Jesus step by step, we learn to see the hand of God in the circumstances around us. We can accept the courage it takes to become God’s agents of providence for others. For those whose suffering is not answered and for whom God cannot intervene, “We who would like to say, and rightly, that God suffers with and in the victims must validate the claim by being, if possible, the agent, the body, in whom God does that sharing.”3

Notes & References:

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at [email protected]. His first book, Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery, is now available.

Photo credit: Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Does this mean without knowledge of good and evil there can’t be trust… Given that our relationship with God is based on trust, what does that say about Adam’s relationship with God? Was Adam simply another form of mammal guided by the instincts put in place by God? It’s not only a case of naiveté. There would never have been the element of risk, which is what puts teeth into trust.

Further into the issue - we have to come back to God’s omnipotence. The Alpha and Omega of God, has to rule out God being surprised by Adam - which takes us into the issue of whether God knows what our choices and decisions will be in, what for us, is the future.

Another take on the subject brings us to character building and freedom. God created Adam, a perfect physical being; but what about his character… Who Adam was in his mind had to be left to Adam. From the second generation on, mankind has been a mixture of nature and nurture. Adam bequeathed us a broken legacy. That brokenness wasn’t nature or nurture. Was it an inbred vulnerability… by design, leaving Adam the freedom to be himself?

Jesus was slain “from the beginning of creation” (Rev. 13:8). His position as the second Adam, explained by Paul, may shatter for us the concept of linear time. Jesus’ death on the cross covers all humanity; and, presumably reaches back in time - into creation itself apparently. Did creation happen in the light of the cross - Adam being a perfect creation as his birth was also Christ’s.


“The ball glowing like a stranded moon in my hand!” I would love to know how you learned to write like that. Your essays are not only thoughtful and soul searching but delightful to read. Shared your book with my own “wandering” daughter hoping that she would be encouraged that faith and doubt can co-exist. She believes that her doubts separate her from God and won’t return to the “fold” until her doubts are all gone. Thanks again for these beautiful, inspiring essays.


Thank you, Barry, for another input, cognitive and emotional!

Excellent question statement, Sirje! It has ring structural aspects, too: “Adam being a perfect creation as his birth was also Christ’s”, Adam’s existence culminates in Christ’s, and Christ’s existence enables Adam’s existence. A perfect circle in spite of and through sin on Adam’s part and death on both parts.

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Beautifully written, and food for thought. Is the “mystery of iniquity” still a mystery to God? In this world, we are oppressed by the mystery of iniquity. For many years, after I learned to think, I believed I was seeing a slow, gradual improvement in understanding of our world, but over the past few years I have begun to realize that the same seeds that bring sorrow and destruction are still producing their same fruit. How God will bring this to an end is beyond understanding.


Thank you for your kind words! I hope your daughter will see that doubts are the way back to God, just one of many ways.

Yes, this is what I’m thinking. Well said.

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May I share something with you?
When Jesus gave the Great Commission, some disciples doubted. They saw the resurrected Jesus (c’mon, what more did they want), and some still doubted. “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matt 28:17)

Did he rebuke them (“By now you guys should know better!”)? No. Did he change them? No. He gave the Great Commission anyways, to all, to the ones that didn’t doubt and the ones that doubted. And he said even to the doubters: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:20)

His church started with believers, less believers, and doubters. Some apostles were doubters even at the time of Ascension! And it was ok, because he is there. In his flock, there are still doubters, less doubters, and never doubters, and he is with us all; he even works with and through all. Like @bearcee said, doubt is one way back to God. Doubt, according to this text, is even one way with God. May your daughter be authentic and may she let herself be loved!


Agree, if it we did not know how bad it can be, how could we be free to choose the better way.

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Without freedom there can be no true love, and love with freedom is the only proof of unconditional grace. I am reminded that “Ignorance is bliss ‘only’ when it is folly to be wise”

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.


An Honest Doubter is a good person.
An Honest Doubter will be an Investigator. An Honest Doubter
is probably like Thomas – a touchy, feely, hands on type of
personality. He didn’t just say, “When I see Him.”
He said when I “TOUCH His hands and His side.”
DOUBTERS can be cheered by Acts 10:35.
“But in every nation [she lives in a “nation”] anyone [your
daughter] who respects Him [God] and does what is right
is acceptable to Him.”
NOTICE – Peter Did Not say “Baptized”.
There were lots of persons in the Bible who DID NOT
know everything. Naaman the Assyrian [body guard of
the emperor]. The woman Elijah lived with for 3 years.
The “heathen” woman who’s daughter Jesus healed.
Samaritans Jesus met who worshiped in a different
denomination but blessed them.
Yes, your daughter is beloved of God.
Peter’s testimony does not mean we can Earn God’s
acceptance by attitude or actions. It is the inclusiveness
of God’s Grace.
No one is so good they should stay out, and no one is
so bad that they cannot enter in.
Perhaps your daughter feels and sees herself as unworthy
at the spot SHE sees herself, but you do not at this time or
understand her feelings.

PS – Does this acceptance go for our Muslim brothers and
sisters, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. brothers and sisters?

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