Somewhere back in my dawning maturity, even though the concept had judged me for years, I realized that I didn’t believe in perfection. This led to my recognizing that it and its siblings, “absolute” and “pure,” are not only judgmental and cruel, not to be believed in but are at best carrots on a stick always beyond our reach.

These carrots may keep us reaching toward improvement but they mock us as time after time we fall short of their false promises. In addition to being shamed, we are made afraid of what standards of perfection call our imperfection. This is tragic because our imperfection is God-given, built into our DNA, a gift of grace and cause for hope.

As biologist Lewis Thomas says so well in his book “The Medusa and the Snail,” without the built-in capacity for mistakes in our DNA, i.e. imperfections, creation as we know it would not have happened. In his chapter, “The Wonderful Mistake” he writes,

“The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music. Viewed individually, one by one, each of the mutations that have brought us along represents a random, totally spontaneous accident, but it is no accident at all that mutations occur, the molecule of DNA was ordained from the beginning to make small mistakes.”

In other words, evolution depends on alteration. If the cells of primal slime were so cleverly designed as to not need and thus refuse change, i.e. perfect, there would be no higher expressions of itself, no peonies or blue birds, no Einstein, no Jesus. In other words, if there were such a thing as perfection, evolution could not happen. Perfection means done and nothing alive is ever done.

I can hear some of you who know your Bible saying, “Wait a minute. What about Matthew 5:48b where Jesus seems to be summing up the Sermon on the Mount saying, ‘You must be perfect as God is perfect.’?”

OK, let’s go with that for a while. Is Jesus asking us to be God? If you believe that you are barking up the most narcissistic of trees, not to mention heretical. What could Jesus possibly mean?

One thing about the reality the word “God” refers to is that it cannot be defined objectively, measured or legislated. The best subjective definition of God in my Bible is in 1 John 4:8b, “… God is love.” The Sermon on the Mount is a compilation of Jesus’ teachings to any and all who chose/choose to listen about how to be loving, as God is loving.

Jesus would not, did not conclude his teachings about love with a judgmental impossible demand. They would and do end with an invitation to accept and find a way in your own imperfection to love as God loves. Can you hear his voice in the dry air of Palestine speaking remarkable, revolutionary words? “Love God, who is Love, and love the different, the Samaritans, the tax collectors, the vilified, yourself.”

The invitation is to compassion, humility, forgiveness and spiritual growth. Jesus teaches that we, as e.e. cummings describes us, “… human merely being,” are beloved. We are comforted and counseled not to be afraid of our differences or those of others. Learn from them and grow.

If there was such a thing as perfection, there would be little or no room for grace with its invitation/requirement, in the words of the prophet Micah, “to love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with our God.” Every individual or culture would claim itself as the ideal. Pity would be called compassion and vanity love.

Or just as bad, most of us would recognize our imperfection and believe the lie that we should be otherwise to deserve love.

In less grandiose but not less wonderful dimensions, Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 5:48 is to love as best we can and to keep trying. It is an invitation to learn of our blindness through failing, discover the beloved humanity in all persons by listening and learn forgiveness through a growing capacity for empathy.

You and I are imperfect and that is the way we are supposed to be. We are not rejects on the assembly line. Accepting our “imperfections” saves us from pride and self-righteousness. They are the love handles God uses to keep teaching, shaping and lifting us up.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at: [email protected]