A week ago, a friend retweeted:
Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing ~ Harriet Braiker
Any discussion of perfection strikes a major cord with me. It does so specifically from a theological view. The Hebrew Bible uses the idea of perfection. But, it is never in a sense of flawlessness—well, outside of God. Humans are flawed. We have been since before Adam and Eve ate from the tree.
We were created that way.
It is called choice.
But, God is a coverer of wrong choices. We see His reaction to Adam and Chavah (Eve) in that He deliberately chose against His Law: the day/time you eat it you will die, and chose to cover over the flaw (choice to sin) of His creation.
God views perfection differently that we do. We have a very Latin/Greek way of thinking about it: undented, untarnished, flawless.
God’s view is: dented, tarnish, flawed—repentant—forgiven: perfect. In a few cases we see that God even forgives/covers over the unrepentant—especially when they have sinned through the influence of others.
Perfection can be something that we strive for when that perfection is wrapped up in repentance of sin and forgiveness.
The forgiveness comes from God the Father. Jesus, Christians believe, is the expression of God’s forgiveness covered in human form—God himself enmeshed in flesh. That he is “the lamb slain” from the founding of the world—to cover Adam and Eve—in other words, God’s mercy poured out.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ( Matt 5.48 NIV )
It’s a great sound bite, but it isn’t complete (Jesus is actually referring to other Scripture here.) because there is a context to these words. In the Book called Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” ( Luke 6.36 NIV )
It is the exact same context, but two different words with two different ideas—when taken out of said context.
What is the overall context of the words of Jesus?
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” ( Matt 5.46–47 NIV )
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” ( Luke 6.35 NIV )
It can be summed up in one word: love. Throughout the Scriptures we see men and women, who are obviously not blameless/perfect being called blameless and perfect. What have they done to be labeled such?
They sought forgiveness for their flaws—and, they were wrapped in it.
They loved beyond their, and, often, others’, sins. That doesn’t mean that they allowed lawlessness or that God did—it means that they loved God with all of their heart, soul, and strength—yes, even with their bad parts.
One last thing, let’s look at the oft quoted, for marriages and weddings, 1 Corinthians 13.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ( 1 Cor 13.9–13 NIV )
For Paul, love is the perfection that comes. So, the unfortunate bumper sticker that says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” is both fundamentally flawed and profound at the same time. Christians (and other) are perfected in forgiveness. We are a flawed force that is greatly loved by an immeasurable God.