“Pure in Heart”–But Not Perfect

canstockphoto2950843I once had a conversation with a friend who told me, quite seriously, that the first humans had photographic memories, had an endless supply of energy, required little to no sleep, and lived for centuries. It was only after the Fall that our memories started to fade, our energy lagged, we started needing eight hours of sleep, and our lifespans shrank to around a hundred years.

On the outside I gave him a pleasant, “you don’t say?” kind of expression, but on the inside I was saying, “WHAT IN SAM HILL??!!”

(And my reptilian brain was screaming, “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson! Run!!)

(My reptilian brain loves Lost in Space.)

I know that the early chapters of Genesis talk about the long life spans of the first generations of humans, but where did he get the other stuff? Photographic memories? Not needing sleep?

It was only when I was driving away—quite quickly, I might add—that I got it. A perfect God can only create a perfect world, so the first humans—Adam and Eve—were perfect.

They had perfect memories—they never forgot anything.

They had perfect metabolisms—using energy with perfect efficiency, wasting nothing, so they could go for days or weeks before needing a nap.

And because they were perfect, they would live forever, for how could disease touch them? They had perfect immune systems!

It all made sense. Well, at least I could see his logic, given the premise that everything was perfect until the Fall.

But the premise is flawed. Genesis 1 doesn’t present a perfect creation.

Something that is perfect can’t change or improve, which creation does in Genesis 1. It goes from good on days one through five to very good on day six. And even “very good” has room for improvement.

It doesn’t mean that God created a flawed world; rather, he created a world with enormous potential.

Christians have long had an obsession with perfection that the biblical writers didn’t share. It’s embodied in our thinking about sin and salvation.

Adam was perfect but he sinned. Because God is perfect, he cannot allow any sin in his presence. Therefore he must have a perfect man die so that the rest of humanity can become sinless, i.e. perfect, and then God can allow them in.

Sounds good and logical, except, again, the premise is wrong.

God can’t allow sin in his presence? He can’t be in the same room with a sinner? He’s around sin and sinners all the time!

It was the Pharisees who couldn’t allow sin in their presence, who couldn’t share a meal with a sinner.

Jesus loved eating with sinners! I think he tolerated eating with Pharisees. He’d “rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints—the sinners are much more fun.”

Perfection in the sense of flawlessness isn’t a category that the biblical writers used. Their words for “perfect”—whether Old Testament Hebrew or New Testament Greek—pointed toward completeness and wholeness, not flawlessness.

Thus when Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” (Matthew 5:8) he wasn’t talking about morally flawless heart. That is what the Pharisees were trying to impose on themselves and every other Israelite in the hopes of convincing God to return to Zion.

He is talking about a person who has a singular passion to pursue God and work toward kingdom of God justice without trying to mix in coercion, violence, fear-mongering, manipulation, or shaming.

Such a person will not withdraw from sinners to keep themselves pure, but will go to the homes of sinners, the places of brokenness, the centers of poverty, the often dirty and dark places of the world.

And there they will see God, because that’s where he prefers to be.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / santorini

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