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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Oddity of Perfection

Isn't it interesting that the number 7, which by divine estimation is the number of perfection, is in human estimation an "odd" number? You might say numbers by course of alternation, are either even or odd. And yet, it is indisputable that in this course of alternation, the lot of 7 has fallen to the "odd" category. My point in using this example of the perfect yet odd number 7 is to simply show this, that when something is considered as perfect (or in a state of being perfected) by God, it is more often than not considered as "odd" by people who do not have a yen for recognizing the perfect. 

When the perfect Son of God and Son of Man walked this earth, He was not recognized as perfect. Instead, He was considered odd, very odd indeed. The people He came to save first, the Jews, esteemed Him “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4) His own family and the folk of his town thought at one point, that He had gone insane. When He was sentenced and then crucified by Roman authorities, they thought they were doing away with a criminal, a socially odd person. In all these cases, He who was perfection in the flesh was considered odd. 

Perfection and Imperfect People

Perfection is a property of reality that evokes a sense of oddity. When imperfect people are confronted with perfection, it is beyond perception, beyond recognition. When we who are imperfect behold that which is perfect, we look at it through imperfect eyes, and with imperfect judgment conclude that it is odd. Naturally so, for without a frame of reference imperfect people cannot recognize perfection. 

For instance, if you bring an uncivilized Barbarian into a Renaissance art museum, and show him some of Michelangelo's sculptures, or a Rembrandt painting, and exclaim "Perfect!" he may think in his own thinking way, “How odd that this city man is looking at a piece of stone and calling it 'perfect.' ” Further, he may consider the storing of stones and rocks (which we call “sculptures”) in vaulted buildings, an odd practice. He has no frame of reference for perfection in western high art. You may say he has no “class.” I say he has not had a “class!” So give him one. Give him some time: educate him, enculturate him, display “perfection” of this sort before him regularly. Then bring him back after a year or so, and you may find appreciation has been cultivated. He may then stand gazing with you, appreciative of Michelangelo's sculpture, David. Why?—Because now, a frame of reference has been built into his thinking. And now, though he may not be able to pull off a sculpture like Michelangelo's, he at least has a sense of the "perfect" in art. What was once odd in his estimation is now appealing. So perfection evokes a sense of oddity, in that what is truly perfect is viewed by imperfect people as odd, unless they have been exposed to and have experienced perfection for themselves.

What then does a person need in order to recognize the Perfect Man, Jesus, and to recognize imperfect men being made perfect? More importantly, why do we need to recognize the Perfect Man, and the process of perfection He carries out in people? 


Irresistible
  
First, in order to recognize the Perfect Man and to recognize the process of perfection in other men (and women), one needs to know Him. When I say “know” I don't mean mere intellectual assent, as in “know of” Him. By knowing Him, I mean knowing Him experientially and relationally. One needs to be exposed to and experience the Perfect Man. But isn’t He odd? Why would I, and how could I want to know someone who is odd in my estimation? My being drawn to Jesus is not a cause for worry, because part of His perfection is that Jesus draws people into a relationship with Himself. You do not have to, neither can you, know Him by an exercise of your own will. He takes the initiative and He is so perfect that when He woos you, it is irresistible. When Perfection finally woos, His is an irresistible wooing that causes us to perceive His perfection. When Jesus woos us, we begin to know Him and He instills within us that frame of reference needed to recognize perfection and anything that falls short of it. When we know Him and see Him as perfect, because of the frame of reference He gives us, we also begin to see the work of perfection in ourselves and in other people. The Perfect One who wooed us is also in the work of perfecting us, and others.

We need to know Jesus in order to recognize the Perfect One He is, and His work of perfection in others. Does your heart cry out for perfection? Do you know Jesus, the Perfect One? His invitation to all is, “Come!”

But why is there a need to recognize perfection at all—whether in the Perfect Man Jesus, or in others? The answer to this is something we all need to know for our everyday lives, as you and I interact with people of varying personalities.


Not So Great Expectations

Simply put, we need to recognize the process of perfection in people because none of us are perfect. In fact, we are far from perfect. We are imperfect and flawed. We are—as Jesus describes us—sinners. However, the good news is this. The Perfect One came to call us sinners to repentance: that is, a life that is being restored to perfection. When we, having realized we fall short of perfection and are sinful, come to Jesus, He exposes our great flaws showing us our need for Him. Then He puts us on the course to being perfected by His gracious and masterful hand. He does that to all who are wooed by His perfection. In this life, if and when we come to Jesus, we are on the path to perfection, never yet perfect. Only in heaven will we have been perfected, in the sense that we will be in the presence of God, without sin, suffering, and death.

There’s a second reason we should recognize the process of perfection in people, and that’s because it lowers our expectations of them. Bill Thrasher states something very profound when he says, “Expectations destroy relationships.” When we realize that people are in the process of being perfected, and are far from perfect, our expectations of them are lowered, and we grant them grace, forgiving them their imperfections, their flaws, and the hurt they have dealt us. We are able to better preserve relationships with people in whom God has begun the work of perfection. This is also true of people in whom God has yet to begin the work of perfection. We also lower “perfectionist” expectations of ourselves, and are more forgiving of our own flaws. We grant grace when we encounter imperfection in others, knowing that we ourselves have been granted grace by the Perfect One, and knowing that we, though being perfected by Him, are far from perfect. This is not a call to let people take advantage of us, rather a call for us to take advantage of the perfecting work of grace in our life, and display the fact that the Master has begun to perfect us.

Have you realized you are far from perfect? In the process of your own perfection have you begun to grant grace to people whose imperfections clash with your expectations of them? If you have, you should thank God who is giving you grace to bear with the serious flaws of other people. This is a mark of His perfecting grace in your life. If you cannot answer in the affirmative, you are perhaps not experiencing and being exposed to the Perfect Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus. He is the Perfect One, and invites you to follow Him, leaving a life of sin that will not ultimately end in perfection, but in destruction and death. Instead, He invites you to a path that will lead to eternal bliss and perfection. Won’t you come?        


© Kenny Damara, 2014

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