I want to look at a wider notion of what it means to be perfect. I think my view of perfection has been shaped by culture, and I feel it's fundamentally flawed.
I feel there's this longing for perfection in our culture that can never be satisfied. Perfection exists as this idea, until you get it, and then it doesn't exist.
It's like the million dollars you set out to earn when you left school, and once you get there, the bar is raised to five million. (To be clear, I'm still 994 thousand dollars short of testing out this theory.)
It's this idea that if you follow the recipe for success just right, you'll achieve it and be happy. This idea that says living the perfect way, the right way, and the prescribed way, will somehow get us closer to some unattainable goal. Or maybe we think our knowledge just needs to be filled up enough, to then know it all. I think having this carrot dangling in front of us directing our path is the ultimate deception.
This undertone of thought in our culture is everywhere! Buy this, earn this, achieve this, learn this, and then... you'll be satisfied.
It's an ancient story, and it's the oldest trick in the book. 'The forbidden fruit', in the first story ever told, was said to give knowledge. It was something they couldn't have, and the first humans knew they wanted it.
From what I've been learning, what we crave (for most of us) won't actually fulfil us. And, on a scarier note, when it comes to religious or moral perfection, and our desire for it—I think that kind of perfection is even more dangerous!
A short story about perception
Our perception of perfection is a powerful force in understanding how and why we crave it.
Once upon a time, a boy loved a girl, but kept his feeling secret. They both attended an art school but the girl was crap at art. The girl painted terribly, and everyone knew it but the boy loved her anyway. A jealous student told the girlto enter her work in the school exhibition which had three big prizes up for grabs!
It was a devious ploy to expose her publicly. The girl sought the advice of her suitor and asked the boy whether she should. He loved her so much, he couldn't tell her the truth so he said, 'yes, do it,' and she did. She entered a piece that was awful, leaving the boy with a dilemma. Should he let her be publically embarrassed? Or should he do something?
He also entered a piece of art into the exhibition, and the night before the event, once all pieces had been submitted, he went and stole the girl's horrible piece of art, along with two of the best bits from other competitors, leaving his own.
He was caught, but it was too late; he'd burnt all three pieces. The whole school came to learn, or maybe I should say perceive, which the top three pieces were! The girl went from being the worst painter in the school, to being among the top three.
Perception is everything! We can easily believe something because everyone believes it.
Jesus was the opposite of a perfect saviour
The Jewish world Jesus grew up in believed that a saviour would come and save their people! But we all know, Jesus' own people killed him. He wasn't who they were looking for. He wasn't the perfect picture of a reigning king!
Interestingly, once he died on the cross the curtain in the temple was ripped! This has huge symbolic meaning. In the old temple system, God dwelled behind the curtain out of reach from everyone except the high priest. Once the curtain was ripped, the mystery was revealed.
It was exposed like a magician revealing his trick! God had made a way for anyone to be in relationship with Him, what the religious system had taught as unattainable was now become accessible to all.
The greater sin
Jesus was a change maker, and the same religious tradition which put the curtain up in the temple also clashed with Jesus when it came to sin! Jesus had a surprisingly gracious approach to sinners, and it's revealing what happens when he intervenes when a woman is caught in adultery.
The religious leaders haul the woman into a public place to publicly execute her. This is a matter of life and death—this is serious—and this is the end for her. According to the Law of Moses she deserves death.
Jesus stops the stoning with his famous words, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.' One by one the religious leaders leave and Jesus is left alone with the woman. This is where Jesus picks up a stone and delivers the decisive blow, right?
No, he says, 'Go and sin no more.' Jesus' critique of her accusers comes unexpectedly; those who are pretending to be perfect have it all wrong. Jesus addresses the religious hypocrisy or perceived perfection, while dismissing the woman with grace and love.
Perfect is ugly
Maybe perfect shouldn't be our end goal. Whether it's religious perfection or worldly success; it's all an illusion. My sister-in-law has a great name for her photography brand. It's called 'perfectisugly', and I think I'm starting to agree.
In the breaking down of that obsessive desire for perceived perfection and this never-ending desire for something unattainable, is the revelation that it's okay to be happy with what we have.
It's about finding meaning in the here and now. It's to love well and be engaged with others through the brokenness of what we all experience. It's exposing our brokenness and deceitful need for a mask, which is only fooling ourselves.
He looks at the sinful woman caught in adultery and, instead of rocks or a lecture, he turns the tables on the accusers who are obsessed with the rules. Jesus' message is radical, it's weird, and it's not black and white.
I'm learning that he's asking us to expose our weaknesses, and be real with each other. He's ripped the curtain in half, revealing that what we thought was meant to fulfil us all along was really just an allusion, pointing us to Jesus.
If we're honest with ourselves maybe we need to ask some tough questions about why we believe what we've always believed. The unattainable should be exposed for the scam it is, and then maybe we'll be okay with knowing that we don't have to know everything. It's okay to be right where you are right now, and to find beauty there.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html