Friday, March 20, 2015

Lure of Perfection

In a recorded video conference session, a presenter warned against chasing after the mirage of an ideal.  It simply does not exist.  Why can’t things be the way Scripture lays out?  Why can’t we establish pristine liturgy and doctrinal perfection in Christ’s Church? or perfect relationships in our families?  Enter reality.  Life does not work that way.  Relationships are messy, because people are messy.  They (we) are sinners and fail one another, yet idealism is alive and well.  I once overheard a man opine that there were no good examples of fathers in the Bible.  At first that seemed legitimate, but as I considered the premise, it made no sense.  The fathers mentioned in the Bible are good examples.  They are as good as mankind gets.  How’s that for commentary?  If reality is so divergent from the ideal, how is it that we continue to seek the latter?  There are two primary reasons, both drawn from a myopic view of the Bible.

Miracle workers
Who wouldn’t want to perform a miracle or two?  Maybe we would never lead millions of people, so set Moses aside, but what about Elijah?  There is a man’s man.  He declared that there will be a drought until he said otherwise (1 Ki 17:1), provided unlimited oil and flour to a widow of Zarephath (1 Ki 17:13-14), raised that widow’s son from death (1 Ki 17:21-22), stood up to the prophets of Baal and called down fire from heaven (1 Ki 18:36-38), and lastly, told King Ahab that the drought would be over and to hurry home to beat the downpour (1 Ki 18:44-45).

Then there is Peter.  Maybe he was an apostle, but he was a regular guy—a fisherman by trade.  You could easily imagine him on an episode of Deadliest Catch.  What do we find Peter doing in the book of Acts?  He healed a lame man (Ac 3:7), healed Aeneas (Ac 9:33-35), restored Dorcas to life (Ac 9:40-41), and was present when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles (Ac 2:2-4; 8:14-17; 10:44-45).  That sounds like the normal Christian life—right?

Have you looked at the lives of these men?  When the queen threatened to take Elijah’s life, he tucked his tail, ran, and begged for God to take his life (1 Ki 19:2-4).  Not exactly the bastion of perseverance we might expect.  Surely, Peter fared better, being filled with the Holy Spirit?  Not so.  He was helping out in Antioch when the church in Jerusalem sent men to see how things were going.  Sure enough, the mighty apostle played the hypocrite and led others astray as well.  Paul got up in his face face and laid down some smack (Gal 2:11-14).

Branches of Christianity promote and cater to the idea of signs and wonders being normative for the “Spirit-filled” life, but what is the reality?  Should they be expected?  The miracles of the Bible are generally confined to three periods: Exodus and conquest of Canaan, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus’ birth through the death of the 12 apostles.  Compared to the millennia covered in Scripture, that is barely a blip on the RADAR screen.  We focus on a tiny bit of something miraculous and overlook the abundance of Divine faithfulness.

Heroes of faith
You probably know where this will be going: open your Bibles to Hebrews, chapter 11.  There we have a stellar examples of mighty faith to which we may attain as “Spirit-filled” believers in the same God as they.  Consider the first two, Abel and Enoch, who were rewarded for their faith by an early exit from this world.  Perhaps that is not the best example, since we really want long life and prosperity.  Noah built an ark, saving the human race, but wait, he was found drunk and naked by his son.  Maybe we should keep looking.

Here we go: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Surely, these patriarchs are definitely men of stellar character.  Alas, they were all liars and schemers, and played favorites among there offspring.  What about Moses?  God chose him to lead the people out of Egypt: a man of uncompromising resolve, no doubt.  He murdered an Egyptian, tried to wriggle out of the task God had given him to do, and near the end of his life, stole glory from God.

What about the judges listed: Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jepthah?  We know the time period was bleak, even being described as a time when everyone “did what was right in his own eyes.”  A judge needs character, so it seems they should be model citizens.  Barak needed to have Deborah “hold his hand” in battle, even though the victory had been guaranteed, and the credit ended up going to another woman (Jud 4:6-9).  Gideon worked under the cover of night to tear down idols, then required multiple signs from God even though he had a definite call and promise, and lastly, after a great victory, built an ephod that led the people into idolatry (Jud 8:27).  Jephthah was a mercenary, the son of a prostitute, who before battle foolishly vowed to sacrifice what first came out of his house—his daughter (Jud 11:30-34).  Samson was a moral train wreck, womanizing and disregarding the Nazarite vow he was under.

Surely, we can be safe with Joseph, Samuel, and David.  Maybe Joseph, but there is the honored son’s cloak and bragging about the dreams where he rules over his parents and brothers.  What of Samuel?  He apparently lacked good parenting skills (1 Sa 8:1-3) much like his high priest guardian, Eli (1 Sa 2:29).  And lastly, there is the man after God’s own heart, King David, the adulterer and murderer.

We want our heroes to be perfect in every way, but none of them are.  We  see someone commended for great faith and automatically assume moral purity.  We have trouble reconciling that God can and does use sinful men to do His bidding.  I do not condone their failures and sins, but we must face the reality that they had faith.  The reason the names are listed is that they believed what God had told them or fulfilled a specific plan He had for their lives.  They just believed the promise, just did what they were told.  Seems like a formula for increased faith to me (see Lu 17:5-10).

Don Quixote is alive and well
In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, there is a woman, Dulcinea, on whose behalf the self-appointed knight fights.  He describes her as the loveliest of all women, deserving complete adoration, yet in reality she is quite plain and nothing like the fantasy he preserves in his imagination.  The same is true of our ideal pictures of a spiritual Christian and pure church.  The pinnacle of perfection does not exist, nor has it ever.  Sin remains, and the world, flesh, and devil are actively at work.  By seeking ever-elusive perfection, we fight imaginary battles against foes of our own making.  (I tend this direction.  Maybe it’s a male thing.)  In thirsting to drink from the Fountain of Youth, we can miss the refreshment from returning and drinking at the Fountain of Life.

Do we cease from confronting error then?  No, the tasks of false teaching and practice need to be addressed.  But there are questions to be asked.  Is the teaching or practice actually false, or is the problem only in my mind?  Am I as defender being vigilant or quixotic?  Is the standard by which I adduce an answer to either even reliable?  In the final analysis, we must ever be returning to the revealed Word of our God as delivered in Scripture and the body of sound doctrine delivered to the saints.

Are we not to be examples of examples of Christ to the world and fellow believers?  Indeed, even as the apostle Paul tells us (Php 3:17; 1 Th 1:7; 1 Ti 1:16) and with eyes wide open, but realizing perfection will come when Jesus returns in power and glory.  Christianity is Christ.  He is the example to whom Paul pointed and of whom we are to hold, however imperfectly, not through our own strength but by virtue of the Holy Spirit working in us.  In these things, we all
beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.  We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.  (2 Co 3:18-4:2)
May we be honorable vessels for His use.  There is a real spiritual battle going on.  We could spend less time tilting at windmills and more contending for the faith.

No comments: