When talking about God, heaven and this life, one often hears the word “perfection”. However, none of us has experienced what this word refers to. Our present state is called imperfect relative to a state we have never known. So what do we mean by perfection?
A common sense meaning of perfection is: more of what I want and less of what I don’t. For example, a perfect job is more interesting, pays more money, is closer to home, has better management, all while eliminating long hours, too much traveling, drudge work, etc. The more positive aspects it has, and the fewer negative, the more perfect it is. The ideal job, then, has only what we want and nothing that we don’t.
But is this perfection? Ask a child what his perfect meal is and he might respond like Will Ferrell in the movie “Elf”: “The four food groups are candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.” No adult considers this be perfect, though it fits the child’s definition of having more of what he wants and less of what he doesn’t want.
This implies that the wanting has to be perfect for the outcome to be perfect; yet I have no way to define a perfect desire. Typically we relate perfection to our wishes, which is why it’s defined as “more and less”. Heaven is more of what we want: peace, joy, satisfaction, and less of what we don’t: fear, injustice, sorrow. But what if this desire is imperfect, like the child who wants ice cream for dinner? In that case, it entirely undermines our picture of what heaven should be. The heaven and God we talk about is born from our own wishes — our concept of perfection according to our likes and dislikes — but if our wishes are infantile, the heaven we image, though it sounds great, might actually be bad for us!
Since we only know perfection in terms of what we want, there is no way to know what a perfect desire is. It’s not just a desire that leads to a better long-term result, because we can’t define “better” without referring to our desire. Thus, we cannot know what perfection is. We have to be told by someone who knows better, just as a child must be instructed by an adult. A proper understanding cannot be found in how we think things should be.
Further, consider the world around us. If it was made by a perfect Hand, it demonstrates to us what perfection looks like. Not in the sense of a single freeze-frame we can call perfect, but in the dynamic movement of the whole, inclusive of all space and time. What we’re looking at is perfection in motion — though since our view is limited, what we see is always imperfect in regards to that whole. In this sense calling the world imperfect is correct because it is never presents a complete picture; but calling reality itself imperfect is to judge it according to our wishes and not in terms of the perfect creation that it is.
So life, not our desire, defines perfection, with imperfection being an artefact of the limits of our vision — “imperfect” here implying incomplete rather than poorly done. If life defines perfection, and if our vision is always imperfect, then we cannot know perfection — we can only live it. But if we let our desires define perfection for us, we will neither know it nor live it, since we will reject the perfection that life is in favor of our own perspective. Thus people turn away from the life around them, and in their hearts turn toward a heaven of their own making. But this heaven is not perfection; it is a rebellion of the mind against its limits, which rather than coming to terms with them prefers the uncreate reality it wishes life to be. We want ice cream instead of broccoli, but since we rebel against the wishes of our parents, we force down the broccoli as we dream of the ice cream to come. For us, perfection is a land of ice cream only, though health and the reality of our body says otherwise.
This perfection is something that ultimately we cannot know, but we participate in it always. That is, we have to eat the broccoli, we have no choice. We may not understand how it fits into the cycle of health, or why eating it first is necessary to enjoying the ice cream; but even though this understanding of perfection escapes us, we still eat it and play our part in life’s cycle of perfection. The question is: do we learn to appreciate it despite our preferences and undeveloped tastes, or do we always rebel and imagine our own “perfection” to be more true?