119 Lamedh

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Imagine this.  Perfection
is completely good in and of itself.  What could be greater than perfection?  The best score on a test is a perfect score.  The greatest rating given to an Olympic dive is a perfect 10.  When we find something that fits exactly what we were looking for, we say "it’s perfect."  When we think of the "perfect" man or woman, we have a set list of criteria that few, if any, could ever fully achieve.

And yet, perfection is defined and bounded.  There is no mystery to perfection.  Perfection has its limits.  Perfection is not a 101% grade on a test.  101% is more than perfect.  101% is a perfect score with  extra credit.  An Olympic diver cannot achieve a 10.1 rating because a 10 is as high as the rating system can go. 

We can define perfection.  We know what it is.  There is no mystery to it.  Perfection has a limit. 

Now imagine this:  God’s commands are boundless.  God’s words are greater than perfection.  More than perfect.  God’s commands are perfect and then even more.  God’s words blow past perfection and leave it in its finite dust.  God’s commands are Grade A++++ (infinity).  Even the perfectionists among us think that’s incredible! 

So what do we desire?  Perfection?  Why limit ourselves to some piddly ole’ perfection when we can desire so much more?  Why do we stare at ourselves in the mirror and measure ourselves against perfection?  Why do we limit ourselves by aiming for the perfect score?  Why not seek more for ourselves than perfection?

The next section of Psalm 119 (starting with the Hebrew word Lamedh) sits in wonder at this idea:

89 Your word, O LORD, is eternal;
       it stands firm in the heavens.

90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
       you established the earth, and it endures.

91 Your laws endure to this day,
       for all things serve you.

92 If your law had not been my delight,
       I would have perished in my affliction.

93 I will never forget your precepts,
       for by them you have preserved my life.

94 Save me, for I am yours;
       I have sought out your precepts.

95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
       but I will ponder your statutes.

96 To all perfection I see a limit;
       but your commands are boundless.

11 Comments

  1. Are the concepts of freedom and goodness that far apart? In the garden Adam and Eve were created “good” but also “free”. They had the freedom to choose to find their identity in Christ and the goodness that flows out of being in harmony with God or to choose to try to be “god”.
    The paradox of the gospel is that when we submit, surrender our will to Christ, then we are truly free to become the person God meant us to be, and occasionally get a glimpse of what it means for our lives to be “good”. This flies in the face of the worlds definition of freedom which defines freedom as not submitting to anyone or God.
    As a Christian the hardest part of my faith journey is to realize that I cannot live my life in a constant state of “goodness” or harmony with God, my neighbour and creation as Adam and Eve experienced, and as I wish for. Why is this so difficult?

  2. I think the construct of freedom cant exist unless there is a limitation on it in our world. Afterall, there could be no government, law, even society without people making use of their freedom and choosing to obey said bodies or rules. I am not sure I really understand Ken’s question, what is above our limitations mean? But I would say that freedom allows us to choose what our limitations are going to be. Kind of like the bird analogy. The atonement as purchase model thing I think. anyway, the Devil has a cage full of birds and he is holding them captive, thus we are slaves to sin without the capacity to choose to obey. Christ comes along and offers to buy the birds. The devil asks Him what he is going to do with them and Christ says “I will set them free.” Once Christ has paid the Devil’s price he takes the cage and whips open the door. Freedom was offered at the opening of the door. using or acting on that freedom is just leaving the cage, but once leaving the cage many birds will simply fly away, even back to the devil, only some will fly around and follow Jesus. I think that might possibly answer the connection question. Not sure though.I hope it makes sense.

  3. We are, at one and the same time, as we see in Romans 6, both slave and free; it is a question of who is our master and who do we “have” to obey.
    Although we are no longer slaves to sin, it doesn’t mean we can’t sin…it just means that we do not have to obey it anymore. Ask anyone who claims to not be a slave to sin to simply stop sinning entirely and the point is made.
    In that sense we are, once empowered by the Spirit, free to obey God.
    How this connects, if at all, to the issue of having the freedom to recognize what Christ has done for us may be quite a different topic (albeit somewhat connected); the idea/issue/reality of regeneration must be brought into play here…

  4. As for Paul’s question, I would agree quite strongly that the garden can point not to where we are to be, but rather where we are going. I believe that the garden does not point to the end or culmination of all things, but rather to the beginning, strange though it may seem. 🙂 Possessing God’s image means that we must innately possess some of the things which God also does. This includes things like freedom and love, for two. freedom is the choice to obey. A slave is not free because the slave is not free to choose to obey their masters. A free man has the capacity to obey only those things which they choose to. I believe this is significant for Christians as well because of Paul’s clear admissions to his slavery to Christ. Those who are set free in Christ are free indeed. Again, there is something here. thanks for the discussion Paul and Ken, I enjoy it.

  5. I’ve also pondered the whole “good” thing in Genesis as Andrew has suggested. Could this even give us clues as to our identity as created beings? Many times I’ve heard that Adam and Eve were perfect…and equate that with being sinless. But they were created good, not perfect.
    Some people don’t like the fact that God could have created us with the ability to sin; to fall into, or rather out of relationship with God. The wonder is that any of us fall back into relationship with him. I suppose we’re all in “relationship” with Jesus…the question is what kind of relationship.
    But the whole “good” thing is an interesting theological point…especially since it has its roots in Genesis and creation. What is helpful is that we know that even before the creation of the world Jesus committed his life for our sake; that he would be a perfect sacrifice, the savior of all men, especially of those who believe (That’s another theological goody i’d like to dig into a little more at some time…savior of ALL men, especially of those who believe… 1Tim4:10).
    Anyways, thank you Ken, for your consistency ( I suck at that) and passion to share openly your thoughts and musings with the rest of us…you truly are a pastor in gifting and passion!
    take care,
    -paulz

  6. By the way, Paul and Andrew… and others like you… I really am encouraged by your comments. I’m trying to encourage others to leave their comments as well! Hopefully you guys are starting a trend here. I really appreciate it!

  7. Andrew- you are once again on to a major theological discovery my friend. When you go treasure hunting… please ask me to come along! You’ve found a big treasure of Scripture here. “No one is good but God.” “And God said it was good.” Amazing stuff. Some translations try to turn “good” “complete” and “holy” to mean “perfect”. But I think you’re on to a major breakthough of our language here. Good(!) job!

  8. I think that is why Jesus responded to the pharisees by saying that God is the only ‘Good’ and did not say perfect. Perfection, as you said, is at its peak and can be no better than it is. If anything changes about what is perfect, it loses its status as perfect and becomes somehow less. This is also cool about the creation of the world. God pronounced the garden and all that was in it as ‘good’ not perfect. We were not as we were meant to be forever even then. God had plans and designs for things to grow, change and develop. kind of cool. thanks ken.

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