Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh, Grow Up

"Be perfect, the way your Father in heaven is perfect" is one of those lines in Scripture that makes Lutherans brux the enamel off their teeth. And I suspect that it's sent countless Christians over the centuries on futile quests toward self-perfection, then frustration, then despair.

The theology geeks I hang out with point out that perfect in this context is better translated as whole. That makes more sense to me.

This past weekend, though, I heard yet another suggestion for an alternate translation, from the pastor and professor who taught our ethics class. He favors the adjective mature. Jesus tells his friends, and by extension the rest of us, to be grow up.

What would a grown-up Christian look like? What would a grown-up faith community look like?


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I like that idea of maturity. Perfect implies something we know, by experience, is unattainable. And yes, Lutherans do seem to know that we are, at the same time, sinners and saints.

Does "mature" imply a state of improvement all the time? I don't know. If so, does that concept imply Calvinism?

In my current state of having to be away from home, I'm staying with a person who listens to "Christian Radio" (VCY) which has a calvinist bent. There is so so much talk about our sinful nature and it seems to be so wallowing in the muck.

I guess any end of the spectrum is off base. Mature might imply a centering based on scripture and experience.

toujoursdan said...

I have also read (I think in a Matthew Fox book) that the Hebrew word (or the root of the word) translated as "perfect" also means "compassionate", which given the context of the passage makes a lot of sense.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

In reading what comes before that verse, could the "perfect" mean perfect in love as God is? Loving enemies, friends, family, strangers, sinners, saints, etc etc etc.

LutheranChik said...

IOH: The point is, the word "perfect," with its implication of flawlessness, is a mistranslation...and one that's damaging to so many people who set this impossible goal for their own behavior because they think "flawlessness" is what Jesus is talking about. It isn't.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

I don't think "whole" is a better translation in context. I also don't think "mature" is either. Prior to this verse Jesus is talking about loving enemies as well as neighbors and tells us that God sends blessings to evil and "good" persons alike. So, I still think he is saying be perfect in your love for all people just as my Father and I love the whole world enough to give my life as a ransom. In other places he says, "Bless those who persecute you." The word perfect in this context is not meant to be a some standard of sinless behavior. It is meant to be a state of our heart towards others. This is how the kingdom expands and how God is glorified.

LutheranChik said...

One of the things that I have learned in my lay ministerial studies is that the subjective "what I think" about what a biblical text means, plus three bucks, buys me a latte grande at Starbucks...what matters is what it says in the original language, and what that means. If you go to and do a search on Matthew 5, you will eventually come to two very good commentaries on this text and its surrounds by Tiede and Smith of Luther Northwestern, where we find out among other things that Jesus is actually speaking in a future tense here. Your point about loving the way God does -- I think that was your point -- is made, but the point about perfection as a state of maturity is also made.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

Tiede states "The logic of such a system is completely dependent upon an astonishing vision of mercy which transforms one's entire perception of reality. Only those who have been forgiven much can grasp it. Only those who have been loved beyond all deserving could begin enacting such a program with a straight face." later "Such amazing grace has been pronounced and enacted before in this world, and those who are disciples of this Jesus are hereby commissioned to pass it on. The last line of this passage must, therefore, be read as a goal and promise which the Lord bestows: 'You [plural] will therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Smith states "this perfection is the condition of being fully mature, all grown up, of having reached the end and goal of human life under God." Later he states, "That kind of perfection, loving as God loves, is the end and goal of life."

Just a substitution of the word mature for the word perfect is not enough. Both words must include the concept of growing in love to the point where we love as God loves.

Being Lutheran it is always assumed by me that this is impossible to do on my own but is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.