What is Perfection?

In the beginning there wasn’t, except for God.
God said “Be!” and there was.
God created, and said it was good, even very good. But it wasn’t yet finished.
Yet, in one sense it was perfect because, after declaring it to be very good, God rested.
The job of furthering that perfection fell to Adam and Eve. They were to subdue it, name it, to have dominion over it, and to increase it by multiplying.
It was perfect but incomplete.
God had mentioned the possibility of good and evil existing in the tree, but until they ate of its fruit they could not know what this meant. They had no concept of sin – just the information that they should not eat of it because doing so would cause them to die, whatever that was. There were no categories of good and evil, right and wrong, sinful and holy in their experience. Just complete and incomplete, and an idea that some things were safe to do and some not.
Perfection is a concept not disimilar in nature to infinity. Georg Cantor and others demonstrated that there can exist different types and degrees of infinity. I believe that God is what might be called a metainfinity – the infinity that enfolds all other infinities. Similarly God’s perfection transcends and embraces all lesser perfections.
Let me give an illustration of one aspect of God’s metaperfection. Imagine three people. On their own each has a degree of completeness we call personhood. If they are remarkably self-adjusted, stable, and self-individuated we might even begin to ascribe some degree of perfection to this personhood. However, separately they might lack something – they might not have relationship. What strong personality has not felt the tension in having to cooperate with others different from yourself?
Now suppose another three people who know each other intimately, with no evidence of selfishness or lack of love between them. Even if each individual was weak or seriously flawed in some way, they might still excell in their ability to relate together, those weaknesses permitting. This is a different degree of perfection. Yet they might not have the ability to function when separate. Each of us in a strong relationships knows the emptiness of being apart.
If, now, we discover that these perfectly relating personalities are also the perfectly functioning individuals of before, then we have not just two separate degrees of perfection, but another even higher perfection – the ability to hold together in common these two aspects which are so often, in humans, inimical to each other. This is a pale reflection of what we see in the Trinity – at the same time one and three, complete and perfect in every aspect, whether considered separately or together.
What are evil and sin? When the knowledge of good and evil entered Adam’s experience, so did death and decay. God had originally taken chaos – the total lack of order, the ultimate incompleteness and lack of perfection – and brought into it order, life, and a direction or purposefulness. This direction is a movement towards completion and the possibility of increased perfection.
At the Fall, the introduction of evil reversed this direction back towards incompleteness and imperfection. It introduced the death we are familiar with, and the decay which physicists identify as entropy – the running down of the mass/energy of the universe from its initial degree of order or structure at creation towards a bland, dead uniformity spread throughout space.
From the time of the fall everything began to die in every sense – physically, morally, emotionally, psychologically, socially and spiritually. Remember, it was never complete, but there is a sense in which it was perfect, just as Johnny Ortix’s little green apple is perfect even though it doesn’t yet taste sweet.
What was needed to reverse this trend? The Perfect entered the world as the Last Adam, and embraced the source of the decay – sin. Yet he remained truly perfect, being without sin and by not sinning (Hebrews 4:15). So, the possibility of ultimate perfection was returned to the creation. Once again the recipients of this grace won for them by Jesus are able to subdue, have dominion over, and multiply the creation. This multiplication is an increase in them – and through them, in the world – of the source of life, like a healing ointment poured into dying tissue, killing the infection and reversing the decay. The Creator has returned within his creatures, and is once again bringing order out of chaos. It is not yet complete, but where he has reign it is perfect.
So, what is the relationship between perfection and sin? Many speak and live as if they believe these two are opposites. This is not so. Sin is not the absence of perfection, although it does bring about a reduction of perfection. Sin is the agent that reverses the trend away from completeness and towards decay. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Perfection is more related to completeness than it is to sin. Just as there can be degrees of completeness, so can there be degrees of perfection. There are no degrees of sin – all sin is sin (Matthew 5:27,28), all sin kills!
Our green apple may be perfect for its stage of development. However, it is not yet finished if the goal is a perfectly edible apple, which is a higher form of perfection. Similarly, the green apple may have a blemish, and so be less than perfect, but still be capable of developing into an edible apple, allbeit still blemished. The apple has become more perfect in one sense, while still retaining the fault which makes it less perfect in another. (c.f Luke 13:6-9)
What happens at the transistion from earthly to heavenly life? When we see Jesus face to face we will then know what the ultimate metaperfection looks like. Jesus is totally complete in a way that we are not. However, at that point we will reach another degree of perfection in that sin will have been done away with. The trend towards decay will not exist, only the ‘upward’ or ‘forward’ progress from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This does not mean we will be complete, nor does it mean that the eventual new heavens and new earth will be complete and totally perfect in the sense that God is. perfect and complete.
We will have the task of stewarding, exploring, and enjoying that eternal progress towards the infinity that is God. Yes, we will be perfect, for our stage of being. But God is so infinitely greater in glory, knowledge, wisdom, love and ability than we will ever be that eternity will not be long enough for us to embrace it all, let alone match him.
I believe the knowledge of good and evil will still be present. It is part of God’s nature, was part of the original creation in the Garden, and since the Fall it is part of all of creation and in our own nature. However, sin has been overcome by Jesus. Sin is not the same as knowing good and evil. Sin is not even just the practice of evil. No, sin is the desire to do evil (James 1:13-15). And this desire will be gone. Sin always causes death and decay. Since there will be no death and decay, there can be no sin.
What there is, however, is incompleteness, in the sense that there will always be something more to do, something to learn or explore or experience, a higher perfection to reach. This is not imperfection. We are so used to thinking in ancient Greek terms, from Plato, through Aristotle and Aquinas – not truly Christian – that we find it hard not to think in terms of perfection in anything than dualistic, absolute terms. The possibility of going from pefection to perfection is a result of God always being more perfect than his creation. That is the nature of an ultimate metainfinity.
Doesn’t trying to explore his depths and the full extent of what he has done sound like an experience fulfilling enough to occupy an eternity?
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