Of Perfection


Lucinda Williams, Texas singer songwriter extraordinaire, by way of Arkansas, has a famous song in which she exhorts us to “get right with God.” Why are we so obsessed with getting it right? Another formidable prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, entreats us to be “perfect as the Father is perfect.” In our western modern culture we hear such exhortation as an impossibility. Who can be perfect as God is perfect? Sadly, perhaps tragically, we have been conditioned by the puritan and Calvinistic roots of our culture to sell ourselves short, to see ourselves as ‘fallen,’ less than what we are. Still, in the liturgy of the church there are references to our unworthiness, a people, the Redemptive life and ministry of Jesus notwithstanding, wholly separate from the life of God. The doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement holds that the only way that things are set right between us and God in the face of our wretched estate is that God willed his Son to be tortured and executed as a means of paying the unpayable price of our sinfulness. This theology has pathological implications because it allows us to defer our very redemption into the next life, abdicating our responsibility to which we are called in the present day.

The word perfection in scripture is not an end, or an attained state of being, but a process…. Things are never finished…  All things in God’s world are in the process of perfection, wholeness, wellness, beauty… evolving, becoming in mysterious improvisation. When Jesus tells us to be perfect, he is saying that we are to give ourselves to the process of love… and love is messy business… love is not neat and clean… It is not perfect in the way we think of perfection… and thus, neither is the so-called kingdom of God… The kingdom of God is subject to the random iterations of this life, subject to loss, to betrayal, to joy, to tragedy, the dark and the light in mysterious communion. To be about the process of perfection, the life of the kingdom, we are to stand and act within the integrity of love as willfully as we can… doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly, in short…. We have that capacity. It is a gift that we dare not defer, much less abdicate.

In our Christian tradition we have worn out our metaphors for God… The wise old man in the sky, aloof from the created order, has been a comfortable illusion… God is the very present process of love; God is present in even the most mundane, seemingly inconsequential act of kindness; God is present in each act of sacrifice for the good of the other, despite the mess that is God’s world. I would argue that there is no kingdom without the mess. There is no other perfection beyond what is. Could it be that God’s perfection, that is, God’s loving the world, is contingent on our giving ourselves to the process of love? Think on that; and be perfect as the Father is perfect.  

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