In this way, they are a bit like us. In our instinctive drive to ease our anxiety, secure our future, compensate for our failures, salve our hurts, and find purpose and love—we, too, have grown imperfectly. Ever since Adam said to God in the garden “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid,” we have been compensating for what was lost to us in that place. We, like my trees, are imperfectly formed. Yet, there is the beauty of authenticity in our imperfections.
We are imperfect. The Gospel is candid about this; we are not yet what we were created to be. Yet, that news is not devastating to us, because in the same breath we are reassured that God is merciful and patient. We are imperfect but not worthless. We are a mixture of foibles and potential.
Richard Ruosso’s novel Bridge of Sighs follows the story of two quite different families, the Lynches and the Bergs, living in an upstate New York town. The families’ only children, Lou Lynch and Sarah Berg, grow up together and marry. Lou’s father, Big Lou, is the eternal optimist and owns a corner market. He believes the best about people and gives them the benefit of the doubt. He appears naively gullible. Sarah’s father is a pessimist, expecting the worst from the people around him. He is quite intelligent and teaches honors English at the high school. He appears bitterly cynical.
Lou, in reflecting back upon their lives together at the age of sixty, observes:
I’ve always thought the greatest difference between Sarah’s father and my own wasn’t that one was highly educated and the other not at all. No, their most cherished beliefs were based not in knowledge or its lack, but in temperament. It was my father’s habit to give people more credit than they had coming, whereas Sarah’s gave them less. I don’t think either tendency makes a man a fool, but both our fathers were anxious that the world conform to their belief. Each was happy when it did, unhappy when it didn’t, and neither seemed able to accommodate any contrary evidence (p. 515).Lou then reflects upon his mother. He says he grew up believing that his mother and father were opposites—his father the optimist and his mother the cynic. But, as he looks back, he concludes: “In reality she occupied the middle ground between his willfully blind faith in the basic goodness of his fellow man and Mr. Berg’s equally blinkered and needy belief in its corruption.”
Lou’s mother was a realist. Lou’s mother had a sound biblical anthropology in this respect. We are capable of doing damage to those around us. Yet, we are also capable of doing great good as well. Each of us is a mixed bag, leavened with both destructive and healing tendencies. The Bible is realistic about us but holds out hope for us through the power of Christ in our lives.
The Apostle Paul writes:
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14)We are all on our way. We are not who we were and not yet who we will someday become. I think there is a certain beauty in that not-yet-perfected imperfection.
Jim Kelsey—Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State