Christianity 201

January 11, 2012

The Way of Jesus is not The Way of Perfectionism

Psalm 51
The Message
 1-3Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
   Scrub away my guilt,
      soak out my sins in your laundry.
   I know how bad I’ve been;
      my sins are staring me down.

 4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
      it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
   You have all the facts before you;
      whatever you decide about me is fair.
   I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
      in the wrong since before I was born.
   What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
      Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

 7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
      scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
      set these once-broken bones to dancing.
   Don’t look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
   Don’t throw me out with the trash,
      or fail to breathe holiness in me.
   Bring me back from gray exile,
      put a fresh wind in my sails!
   Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
      so the lost can find their way home.
   Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
      and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
   Unbutton my lips, dear God;
      I’ll let loose with your praise.

 16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
      a flawless performance is nothing to you.
   I learned God-worship
      when my pride was shattered.
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love
      don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Eugene Peterson:

The attempt to impose perfection on either oneself or another, whether parent on child, pastor on congregation, CEO on a company, teacher on student, husband on wife, wife on husband, is decidedly not the way of Jesus.

And how do we know?  In large part because of David, the ancestor of Jesus, who was unembarrassed to be called Son of David.  David provides a large chunk of the evidence that disabuses us of the idea that perfection is part of the job description of the men and women who follow Jesus.  More narrative space is given in our Scriptures to the story of David than to any other single person, and there are no perfectionist elements in it.  The way of David is, from start to finish, a way of imperfection.

… David was a person of prayer.  As it turns out we wend up knowing far more about David’s dealings with God than we do about his dealings with Goliath and Saul, Jonathan and Abigail, Bathsheba and Tamar. And we kneed to know this, for God is the large, totally encompassing reality in which “we live and move and have our being.”  John Calvin described the Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the sou.l”  We will never understand the first thing about who we are and what we are doing if we know ourselves only from the outside. Not that the inside can be understood apart from the outside (nor the outside apart from the inside.)  We need access to both: the story and the prayers. And we have both. There are some ancient manuscripts in which copyists left a gap after each incident in David’s life into which the reader could insert an appropriate Psalm, praying his or her human action into God’s presence and action.

There is not the slightest effort given in the biblical story to make David admirable in any moral or spiritual sense. And yet there is the assumption in all of this that flawed and faithless and failed as is he is, he is representative — not a warning against bad behavior but a witness, inadvertent as it was, to the normalcy, yes, the inevitability of imperfection

The Jesus Way, pp. 79-82

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