Check out @_SJPeace_’s Tweet:

I hate doing videos so happy when someone else does it instead. The short video at the link above promotes the idea of “showing our scars” rather than trying to hide them. This ties to some of my work on wabi sabi and kintsukuroi.

Perfection as Holy Defect

I am working on an article right now that

P.T. Forsyth.  (Image from Wikipedia)

considers a different metaphor for understanding the goal of “perfection” as a Christian. So this post is a bit of a scratchpad where I put down my thoughts. Commonly, the term is linked with moral holiness and holiness often is connected to the metaphor from the OT sacrificial system, an animal “without spot or blemish.” It is indeed a metaphor… a lack of problem externally in an animal, or lacking variety in coloration hardly means in some “real” sense that the animal is particularly holy, to say nothing of perfect. One only has to consider the illustration of Jesus regarding “whited sepulchers.”

One of the challenges in the Bible is that in Greek thinking, there was at least two very different ways to look at perfection. Aristotle listed three, but two of them overlap considerably. One can think of the perfection in terms of Substantive Perfection, or Functional Perfection. In one case, perfection is seen as something absolutely complete, inherent to the item, and lacking the possibility of being improved upon. The other means that it meets the need or function it was designed for… perfectly. As such, the perfection is not inherent but in its role. In the former understanding, perfection is static, final, unchanging. With the latter, there is no such assumption.

Consider Jesus in Luke 2:52. Most of us would see Jesus as perfect. The passage speaks of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. With the first definition, Jesus would be transitioning towards perfection but as a child would be imperfect. However, with the latter definition, children are suppose to learn, grow, and develop. As such, there is no reason to presume that Jesus was imperfect as a child. He was growing exactly as a child should. Likewise, Jesus scars after His death and resurrection are not imperfections, but demonstrations of God’s perfect faithfulness and power.

For me, a useful metaphor for the perfection of the saints is not in line with the Holiness movement… or with linking perfection with holiness at all. If we are called for perfection, even though we are flawed and constantly changing, it seems as if we have to see perfection as unattainable—- OR we have to rethink our understanding of perfection.

<A similar thing comes up with Righteousness. Some link righteousness with holiness. But the OT word for righteousness “tsedeq” has more to do with “right relationship.” So when we are told in the New Testament that through Christ we are righteous, this is more than simply a legal sleight-of-hand (“penal substitutionary atonement” may be a useful explanation, but it misses the point in this case). Through Christ we have a right relationship with God, so in that sense we are righteous even though we are not sinless.>

I am getting long-winded and I haven’t even gotten to writing the article. But I found a very nice quote by Forsyth:

“Perfection is not sinlessness. The perfect in the New Testament are certainly not the sinless. And God, though He wills that we be perfect, has not appointed sinlessness as His object with us in this world. His object is communion with us through faith. And sin must abide, even while it is being conquered, as an occasion for faith. Every defect of ours is a motive for faith. To cease to feel defect is to cease to trust.”  –Peter T. Forsyth (1848-1921)

Anyway, I am still researching. I may change my mind still.  But my hypothesis of perfection being a more dynamic rather than static quality appears to be good… so far.

Images of Holy Defect

Defects are not always bad. Defects, after all, simply are things that show variance from someone’s idea of perfection. But perfection is not only unattainable… it is also unidentifiable.  Plato’s idealized forms don’t really exist… here or anywhere else.

But what do I mean by “Holy Defect.” This doesn’t mean “defective holiness.” Rather, I am suggesting that flaws may be sanctified, set apart by God as– for a lack of a better word– good.

I would like to suggest a few images/metaphors to explain and reinforce this point.

  1. Thorn in the flesh

For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.  Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.             (II Corinthians 12:6-10)

I don’t know what this “thorn is.” Some suggest that it is a physical infirmity. Could be… it involves the flesh after all. Some suggest it was feelings of guilt for killing Christians in the past. I doubt that– it would be a poor choice of metaphor if it was (but could be). It could be some sort of sexual temptation or struggle. Paul uses flesh as a metaphor for, well, carnality. I work with a counseling center, and certainly Romans 7:18ff sounds a lot like what people say who struggle with sexual issues. But no one knows for sure.

But one thing I do know… it is a defect. Not only is it a defect; but it is a defect that God seems to prefer that he maintains. The defect gives humility. It demonstrates God’s grace and power.

2.  Penitent Publican.publican_and_pharisee

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”            (Luke 8:9-14)

Both of the individuals had defects. However, the Pharisee tried to hide his defects behind a mask of piety and self-righteousness. The publican (tax collector) freely admitted his defects and went away justified (holy) before God.

3.  Wounded HealerJesus with Nail print in hand

The term came originally from Carl Jung suggesting that out of the woundedness of a psychologist, comes the desire to help others who are wounded. However, more than providing a motivation for healing, woundedness also empowers healing.

In Henri Nouwen’s book” The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society,”

A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience. Mostly it is better not to direct a suffering person’s attention to ourselves. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing.

In Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant is described as one who by whose stripes we are healed.

Wounds are essentially defects… defects that help us care for the wounds of others.

4.  Kintsukuroi.  (Golden Repair)

I have discussed this before in a couple of blogs:kintsukuroi

Blog #1

Blog #2

Additionally, I have a blog on a related topic, Wabi-Sabi

The idea is that there is greater beauty and craftsmanship in a beautiful repair than in hiding damage. Likewise, in a person, the power of God is demonstrated more clearly in scars, rather than their absence. This may remind one of Jesus who in His resurrected form had scars of His crucifixion as evidence of God’s power to heal– giving us hope of such healing.

5.  Chipped Cup100_1296

As a final thought, consider the following quote:

“The pride of the cup is in the drink, its humility in the serving. What, then do its defects matter?” -Dag Hammarskjöld