On imperfection and instinct


When, I wonder, did the church lose its recognition that we are all imperfect and broken? Again and again we hear the comment from people that they don’t feel good enough for church, or something similar. I’ve even heard people in churches express the thought that they are not like others because their lives are far from the perfect one they imagine others in the church are living.

I believe that we are all broken, just in different ways. Beautiful children of the Creator, we carry a fracture, a fault line which repeatedly sets us at odds with ourselves, others and God. This inherent capacity to find ourselves alienated from all that brings wholeness, within us as an underlying characteristic, at times erupts from our deeper self to ambush us with behaviour which is not what God intends nor what we expect of ourselves. In our desire for self-justification we grade such outbreaks….seeing our own infringements of God’s best for us as minor compared to those of others. It may feel trivial, or catastrophic, but, if we allow honest reflection, our brokenness stares at us in our inner mirror, an unwelcome guest in our assessment of ourselves.

I’ve often wondered about the description (in both the Old and New Testament’s) of David as a man after God’s heart. It’s hard to find a more devastating outbreak of our intrinsic self-destructiveness than David’s – adultery, lies, deception, murder and betrayal. In Psalm 51 his brokenness emanates from every agonised word of his abject outpouring of guilt. His life is shattered, and surely he must have wondered if God could even hold the pieces.

Yet that very outpouring, I suspect, might be exactly why (at least partially) David is so described. His life in jagged shards, every memory piercing him in its inescapable repetition, still his instinct is to return to God, to seek to see the relationship re-established. His every intuition is that however badly he has let himself down, however estranged he may feel, what he needs to do is go home to God. Perhaps, like the younger son of Jesus’ simple yet profound story of the prodigal son, he was not initially sure of his welcome. His instinct though was right.

Times of particular pain, whether caused by our own misdeeds and awareness of our imperfection or some other form of suffering, tell us a lot about the reality of our desire for God and, perhaps, our understanding of Him. Both David and the younger son sensed, however imperfectly, that to return would bring welcome and solace. Others, like the elder son, missing the outrageous grace of the Father, keep a tragic distance.

God’s heart was towards David, and the younger son, and is always towards us, however aware of our imperfections we might be.

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