“Perfect”

Good morning. Since it’s Sunday, I am sharing a message of faith first of all. I hope it speaks to everyone who reads it.

My job requires me to talk. Mostly. that means rooms of students, but sometimes it means rooms full of other scientists or business leaders. One event in particular placed me in front of 300 CEOs and CFOs. I’ve always been comfortable in those situations – yes, a little on edge, but never petrified. That’s why I was surprised with myself two years ago when I was asked to teach 13-18 year old kids in Sunday School.

We were starting a run through the Bible, beginning in Genesis, and it was Week One. I have spent years studying the creation story and reconciling it with scientific data. The first three chapters of Genesis were a big part of my youthful wandering through faith, agnosticism, and doubt. So many say separation from God is liberating but I found it painful (thought I wouldn’t admit it). Bombarded by arguments from both sides, I was not yet mature enough to process them. While on the surface those years were enjoyable, underneath, I was torn.

So when I had the chance to teach these kids, including my own daughter, I wanted to somehow just inject everything I had learned into their brains. I wanted to spare them all the struggles I had undertaken, all the pain and doubt I’d felt, and give them my hard-won confidence in God. After all, they are all my brothers and sisters in Him – why wouldn’t I want to do that? So I was nervous. By the end of the first class, I realized that I can’t save them from those things, and even if I could, it would harm them, not help them.

Matthew 5 is well-known for the Beatitudes, but the latter part of the chapter to me is just as strong. It concludes with verses 45-48:

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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 own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

There are two things here that reminded me in that time of my error. The first sentence was the first one. So many of us define “love” by outcomes. If you “loved” me, you would have saved me this heartache! If you “loved” me, you would have stopped this pain! If you “loved” me, then my life would be better! That’s what I was trying to do in Sunday School. I was trying to show those kids my love for them by how much I could make “future pain” go away, whether they wanted that or not. But Jesus reminds us here that God’s love for us is not defined by outcomes – it exists in spite of them. He reminds us that His love is not reserved for believers – but it is only the believer that can truly understand it. That’s what I should have communicated – that it didn’t matter what voices would try to destroy their faith as they walked life’s paths, as long as they remembered that God’s love for them never ceases, even in the midst of pain.

The second key in this passage is at the end – “perfect.” The Greek word is telos – boy, does that word send my mind in a million directions. I don’t want to get too deep here, but one argument for God in philosophy is the teleological argument – God exists because the order and completeness of the universe demands that He does (if you are a non-believer reading this, retract your claws please – I’m not going to debate that argument here, I’m just using it as an example of the word). So the word translated “perfect” here is also translated “complete”. That, to me, is very important.

For years when I read this verse, I thought, “Well, that rules me out.” In my mind, “perfect” meant error-free; always positive and correct outcomes; never wrong. So, thanks, Jesus, for telling me to be something that I can’t be. But, oh, the dangers of extracting sentences from soliloquies. You see, verse 48 is the culmination of something that started in verse 17, where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”, and then in verse 20, where He says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

For the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells us what “perfect” means. It means that we are perfected, completed, a finished end product, not in what we do…but in who we are. “Perfected” as Jesus was perfecting God’s law, where “heart, soul, and mind” are the source of “deeds”, not the other way around. It means that God’s choices are our choices, God’s vision is our vision, God’s purpose is our purpose, because only if that is true can we possibly hope to do the things that Jesus describes in verses 21-48, things that are EVIDENCE of that perfection. His admonitions to us in this passage are not instructions FOR perfection, they are things we will do BECAUSE of that perfection. Yes, our own vision, purpose, and desire will try to intervene – it did for me and it will for those kids in my class. But that is how they will come to their own understanding, their own knowledge, their own certainty, that their perfection and their hope is in Him, and pain does NOTHING to change that.

There’s a lot of rain falling today in this world. No one is exempt, no matter your beliefs. You have a choice – God’s vision or yours. As that Sunday School class progressed, I learned how to get myself out of the way and let God speak. I learned that His vision is better than mine. I learned to trust in the “completeness” that He gave me, whether I felt complete or not.

Have a great Sunday.

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