What a strange and wonderful providence that this machine that sits on my lap, that is capable of astounding wonders, that employs the latest and greatest of technology and design spends most of its energy as a “Way Back” machine. Sure, I write things, I edit things; I study things with my laptop. But the one app that is operating more than any other is iTunes, playing music from my childhood. Here’s a little playlist confession- when I booted up this morning iTunes started with Stevie Wonder’s hit for which this piece is named, followed by the Four Tops ode to my beloved bride, “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got.”
There are, I believe, two great triggers to nostalgia, music and smell. The two come together sometimes for me. If I listen to a few Nickel Creek songs in row, or a certain Alison Krauss album suddenly I detect the scent of my own previous chemo. When I went through Hodgkins lymphoma five years ago Alison and Nickel Creek were on constant rotation.
In like manner nostalgia and music come together when Stevie Wonder sings of the glory of the days of his own youth. One would think, based on our adult obsessions, that what we long for from our youth is health and beauty. I would dearly love to have again a thick head of hair, and would love to be able to run about a soccer field for hours at a time again. What I suspect we miss more, however, is innocence.
I remain committed to the biblical doctrine of total depravity. That doctrine applies to children, babies, even unborn babies. We are all sinners, every one. We all stand guilty before the judgment seat of God. The innocence of youth then isn’t a lack of sin and guilt. It is instead a relative ignorance of that sin and guilt in ourselves and in others. When we were young we didn’t yet know how stained our souls already were. We didn’t know all that we were capable of. We didn’t have a long string of spiritual failures behind us. Nor had we yet, for the most part, experienced the great evils others would pour out on us.
An old friend, who sadly, several years ago, had been excommunicated from the church where I served for many years, made the news recently. With no one closing in on him he went to the police to confess to sexually molesting a mentally handicapped sixteen year old girl. As the father of a fourteen year old mentally handicapped girl I am peculiarly angry. As a sinner my heart breaks for both of them, and for the same reason, she for coming to know how evil and cruel men can be, he for coming to know what an evil and cruel man he is. This is how bad we can become, proving depravity isn’t a doctrine but the very font of evil in the world.
When we were young, unless we had been victimized, we didn’t even know such things could ever happen. When we grow older, one way or another this perversion, or alcoholism, or spousal abuse, or abortion, sooner or later touches us all. And we wish we could go back. We long to again be innocent, like a child.
As I sit with my suffering wife as she battles leukemia I have two great comforts. First, Jesus has gone before her. There is no suffering we can experience that He did not experience before us. Second, because He suffered, those days will indeed come back once more. The specter of death that haunts us wears a leash. Jesus has conquered the Grim Reaper, and so his bloody scythe is the very chariot that carries us home. When we are home we will know sin no more. We will be children again. We stand innocent, in Christ, before His judgment seat now. But then we will be innocent in ourselves. Then we will be back in the Garden, to stay. Those days, for we who are in Christ, are coming again.