It is easy to daydream about how we want things to be. Last week, everyone in our house, except the two super-immune dogs, was sick. It was a joyful time of sharing and moaning and laying in bed with bowls, towels, and tissue. So, last week, a perfect world looked like health, no matter where it was.
For anyone who believes in an afterlife there is the nagging question of just what the “next” something looks like, feels like, is like. My kids go through periods where they seem very aware that things will be different one day. They talk about things will be in Heaven, to which I, their theologically obsessive dad, remind them that it is the earth that God will restore for us to inhabit; Heaven is a real thing, but it isn’t our permanent, future residence. Typically these conversations are about flying, or surfing, or my son being able to run faster than he can currently. But they are good exercises that keep us grounded in the reality that we believe God is not finished with what He is doing, there is a better time coming, no matter how good or bad the present time may seem.
But the way a “perfect world” might look is not exactly foreign to us as Christians. We do have a model of perfection in the opening story of the Bible. Eden was a place of serenity, light and even utopian perfection. And this is how we tend to remember the story: the garden was perfect, the people were perfect, the animals were perfect, etc…
But what about the temptation? Was that perfect too?
The reality that gets left out of our rosy depictions of Eden is that the “perfect world” God created was not a world without temptation, or potential consequences. And this is a bit troubling for some of us.
Wouldn’t the best world possible be a place where we wouldn’t even have the option of making a mistake? Wouldn’t perfection imply no chance of losing the perfect-ness of that place?
According to God, apparently not.
And while there is far more that could be said, the point of this, in my opinion, is that our understanding of perfection might need to be adjusted…at least a little.
Perfect places are not places without temptation. They are, instead, places where the things we are tempted by do not hold a candle to the things which are holy and pure. Eden teaches us that choices between wrong and right are not evil in themselves, but evil is embraced when we fail to see what is greater, more lovely and most good. Perhaps this is why Paul, who certainly lived in a world that was anything but perfect, did not pray for Christians to finally find a commune or island or mountain top where temptation did not exist. Instead, Paul prayed that the eyes of our hearts would be opened, enlightened, so that we can better see the kind of life, and afterlife, that is found in living in nearness to the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:16-18).
Let it not be a world without choices that we Christians believe to be the best of all possible situations. Instead, let us be so unmistakably in love with God, with the life that only comes through Him, with the warmth of the fire of His Spirit in us – let us be so near to the grace and beauty of Christ, that every other thing that calls for our attention and affections would be dim to our eyes and uninteresting to our ears.
It is the world where we freely choose what is beautiful that we can begin to call perfection, not the world where there is only one thing to choose.