Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Heart Of It

So here’s where all this comes from, I think. I’m guessing. All this Christlikeness business. All this thinking that humans can be holy as God is holy. All this thinking that we can be like God.

I was hoping one or more of my pastor friends would bring it up. Either in conversation or emails or comments to this blog. But no. Not one has. And this is a pastoral conversation that has been going on now for years.

Matthew. Matthew 5 through 7. The Sermon on the Mount. And especially Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Here throughout is instruction on what love-inspired living looks like. What God-inspired being and doing looks like and feels like. What we should understand to be God’s own standard of spiritual being and the concomitant standard of moral being.

But this is hyperbole, isn’t it? Have you ever known anyone to be perfect? Have you ever known anyone to have lived a sinless life? Have you ever known anyone to have unalloyed God motives? To have been motivated only by the love of God and the love of his neighbors? To have acted only out of the urging of the Holy Spirit? Every moment? His or her whole life?

I do know a number of quite thoroughgoing Jesus lovers. God lovers. A number of them pastors and priests and clergy. But none of them is sinless. None of them is perfect. All of them are just humans who because of their love of God do rise above the evil in them from time to time. The pride in them from time to time. Often in fact. Several of them quite often.

But that doesn’t make them like Jesus. That makes them more or less faithful lovers of God.

But Jesus isn’t being cruel. Jesus is telling us that when we are feeling really good about ourselves. Really quite full of the wonderfulness of ourselves. Feeling how Godly and holy and righteous and Holy Spirit infused and deified and Jesus-like we are. Or someone we know seems to be. There is infinitely more that we or our Godly friend would need to do to measure up to God. To measure up to what God has in mind for us.

So this is a trope. This is a figure. This is Jesus’s way of saying, “Look here you self-satisfied dolts. Pay attention. God doesn’t only see what you do. He sees who you are. He sees into the very garbage dumps of your hearts. Hearts that every day need some spring cleaning. Hearts that every moment need a visit from God himself.”

But he is not saying, “I know you have it in you. In your being, you are perfect, just like God. Because you were made by him. Made in his image. All we have to do is let you in on the little secret. The perfection secret. And now that you know it, you can all go forward and multiply in your perfection. And become infinitely perfect as God is infinitely perfect.”

No. What he’s doing is making clear on the one hand that God has high hopes for us and on the other—by implication—that those high hopes will not always be (and may only occasionally be) fulfilled. And what he is making clear by taking the time and effort to spell all this out for us is that God does love us, even though we are none of us even close to being perfect.

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