Experience and Innocence – the value of a good reputation

One of the wisest and gentlest characters ever to inhabit story is described as  “this experienced yet innocent soul … .” Her name is Miss Lydgate (we never learn her first name) and she’s one of the Oxford Dons in Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers’ thoughtful, captivating and quite literary (in substance and motif) detective novel featuring Harriet Vane and – to a lesser degree – Sayers’ usual detective Lord Peter Wimsey.*

A reputation of character

As Harriet Vane’s alma mater faces repeated attack from an unknown vandal, whose tactics are not just physical ruin but personal ruin of the college inhabitants as well, it becomes clear that the scourge must be an insider. One member of the faculty we are assured it will not be is Miss Lydgate. She is not only an “innocent soul” but also known for her “scrupulous personal integrity.” While other faculty members cast suspicious eyes on one another and are under suspicion themselves, no one would think for a moment to include Miss Lydgate as a possible suspect.

Her reputation reminds me of some advice Jesus gave:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16.)

Jesus’ listeners probably couldn’t help but think of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Some of those people might even have been present when the Holy Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus at his baptism, so the full import of the innocence Jesus advised in Matthew 10 – a divine Innocence to go with a serpent’s wisdom – would have been apparent to his listeners.

This is what you are called to as well: shrewd wisdom while relying on the righteous innocence of the Spirit of Christ.

A reputation of deeds

We can learn something else from Miss Lydgate. She also has an airtight alibi for one of the vandal’s earliest attacks – she is with Harriet Vane and the college’s Dean as they fruitlessly chase the perpetrator one dark night – proving that it pays to be not only of good character but also to have a witness or two for your whereabouts during a crime spree.

Jesus’ followers, too, are to live so that others see they are not only not guilty of a crime spree but are responsible for much more.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16.)

In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (1 Timothy 5:25.)

It is not a matter of doing this on your own, of course. Rather, Jesus is with you every moment. He wants you so close to him that his steps are your steps, and that when people see you they see him right at your side.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29.)

Do you keep this restful company with Jesus, learning from him as his followers did 2000 years ago? If so, you might find yourself resembling Miss Lydgate, an “experienced yet innocent soul” that others look to as light in a world too often under attack.

This is the reputation God cultivates in you through the Spirit of Christ in your character and in your deeds.


*Last Monday’s post also referenced Sayers’ Gaudy Night: Approval of Women Is Not a Male Prerogative.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Experience and Innocence – the value of a good reputation

  1. This is such a refreshing picture, Tim, in light of how our society (Christian and non) so often seems to evaluate people according to popularity, fame, and results. To have a reputation that’s based in that restful closeness to God, so that we’re seen as wise and pure of heart — that’s something to aspire to.

    • Tim says:

      It would be a great rep to have, Jeannie, and it’s the rep I see you building in your words of wisdom and kindness and encouragement.

  2. roscuro says:

    I love Sayer’s work, and Gaudy Night is probably her best novel (I really enjoy The Nine Tailors and Busman’s Honeymoon as well). Gaudy Night gives such a thorough examination of the perspective of women and how we relate to the world, and yet everything that is said actually drives forward the plotline. When I read the description of Miss Lydgate, I was reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. Both literary personalities were of high personal character, but neither was shocked or surprised at other people’s failings, and rather treated them with mercy. I have often thought that is how Christians should be, following Christ in a life of integrity, but showing mercy, not outrage, to those around us who are caught in sin.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve read all the Father Brown mysteries and totally agree in your comparison with Miss Lydgate. What a great example they set for living in this world but not being bound by it.

      • roscuro says:

        Their authors, of course, were inspired by the example of Christ, who as God knew man’s capacity for evil thoroughly, but seldom showed outrage (except to those who claimed to know better) and always showed mercy, loving us when we were unloveable. Chesterton and Sayers are wonderful examples of how Christians can speak truth to the world without sounding preachy in the least. And that is a rare art.

Talk to me (or don't)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.