Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Toward Perfection?

There is a cultural story of ever increasing prosperity, wisdom, and freedom woven into my experience of the American Dream. That optimistic story was shaken hard by the massive world wars of the last century, but at the popular level the dream lives on according to the script of that story. In my personal story there is the expectation of greater income, increased knowledge (and hopefully wisdom) and the freedom that comes from experience married to vision. In a nutshell, both my country and I believe that things are going to get better with each passing day - we are on a relentless drive to perfection!
There is strong theological pull (and even PUSH) to that story as well. All Christians are praying that there is a better life coming... We know that we have flaws, but we dream of being made perfect. We remember the words of Scripture that Jesus is the "author and perfector of our faith." So we wait, more or less, patiently.
Yet there is a counter story in Scripture that quietly challenges this fatal belief. It is not found in a single text, rather it is the story that emerges when you step far enough away from the story to take it all in. That story declares that perfection is exactly the thing that humans cannot handle. We had it in the garden, but we squandered it. Now we long for a return to the Garden. But God will not allow us to go back (remember the Cherubim?) and so we must move forward. (By the way this is a nice theological reminder for all the restorationists out there). And that forward movement is what the Bible is all about. But it is not the movement that some think it is. We are not moving back to the Garden, but rather we are moving from the Garden to the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. We are not moving back to naivete, but rather we are moving towards an all embracing forgiveness.
It will not be our perfection that finally saves us, but rather our willingness to both receive and give forgiveness. The only way we can truly move toward perfection is to be humble enough to admit our own faults, and seek forgiveness, and to be mature enough to admit the faults of others and offer forgiveness. Nothing else we can do is more godly.

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