When I was a child, there was a popular baseball story. It was titled “The Kid Who Batted A Thousand.” The story was about a baseball player who never struck out. He drew a walk every time he came up to bat, allowing him on base.
By the end of the story, the fans express great anger. They are angry with this flawless player, because his perfection bored them to tears. The fans grew to hate him because perfection leaves nothing to the imagination.
Imagine: If you experienced continual perfection, life would soon be flat, dull and tasteless.
I saw a film where a criminal dies and seems to wake up in heaven. In heaven, he gets everything he requests, everything he has ever desired. Every wish is granted immediately and to the fullest.
This happens day after day, week after week. At the end of the film, the criminal pleads for all of this perfection to stop. He tells another man in the story: “I didn’t think heaven would be like this! I want out!” The man replies: “Oh! Who told you this is heaven? This isn’t heaven; it’s the other place.”
It is interesting to consider that perfection, as we define perfection, actually might feel like hell. Maybe we need “imperfection” in our lives.
It could be that flaws, mistakes, and imperfection gives life a flavor it would otherwise not have. Many Amish quilts are made with one intentional flaw in the design. I wonder if the Amish might be telling us that perfection, as we define it, is boring.
The Apostle Paul wrote that he had a “thorn in the flesh” that kept him from being conceited (II Corinthians 12: 1-10). This “thorn” also reminded Paul that God’s grace was enough for a person. We Christians worship a savior who, after his resurrection from death, still had the scars of the crucifixion on his body (Luke 24:39; John 20:27).
In Christian theology, we also teach that Jesus ascended with those same scars. Maybe godly perfection cannot be defined in the ways we define perfection.
This leaves us with some thoughts to ponder:
Perhaps perfection, as God would define it, is vastly different from our human definitions of perfection.
It is probable that we have never experienced perfection. Therefore, we have no idea what it would be like.
It is interesting that we can make so many assumptions about something we have never seen or experienced. We think we know things about perfection, absolutes and eternity when we have no capacity for understanding these things with our limited perceptions. When Paul wrote about love, he addressed our finite grasp of perfect things: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully … .” (I Corinthians 13:12).
Realizing our imperfect grasp of perfection could open us to being truly surprised. The Bible continuously affirms that divine initiative always surprises people.
The reformer Martin Luther made an important distinction between ministerial reason and magisterial reason. Ministerial reason is helpful when I am drawing blueprints or paving a parking lot. Magisterial reason is dangerous because it identifies those times my mind sees itself being able to handle all levels of reality and truth.
Why do Christians feel pressure to know what we can never know in this life? What would your life look like if you realized you have permission to stop pretending?
The world and the church at large would benefit if we realized God’s grace is also given to those who stop pretending to know so much.
I love the honesty of one man who approached Jesus in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!” Many of us, including the apostle Paul, relate well to that man’s confession.
God is with us and loves us on our brightest days as well as in the dark nights of our ignorance. I trust that claim only because of God’s promise, not because of my limited and faulty understanding.
The Rev. Larry Isbell is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Columbus. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.