Perfection: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”   (2 Corinthians 12:9)

As we anticipate the celebration of another Independence Day weekend, we find ourselves at a time when there is a movement to fundamentally rewrite our history. Not long ago, America’s Founding Fathers were respected for who they were. Today, their imperfections are likely to be under attack from educators, politicians, and the media. An outcry has developed to remove many statues and monuments around the country that glorify Confederate generals, advocates for slavery, defenders of segregation and others whose racial views or conduct are now widely detested. It’s not only Confederate statues that have come under attack but also those of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, to name a few. It has long been established that at least half of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners. Yet through the years monuments have been erected to honor those who performed extraordinary achievements, even though their character was less-than-perfect. The more we focus on the flaws, the less likely we are to recognize the virtues that can be learned from these lives. George Washington, therefore, is memorialized in statues and names of places, even though he once held slaves. 

It is interesting to note that on July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in New York City. Washington and many others had been waiting for a such a declaration for some time, while efforts at reconciliation had been made by others who were reluctant to rebel against the Crown. So only days after its passage, Washington had the Declaration presented to his troops and onlookers from the citizenry. Sparking a celebration through the streets in reaction to what had been read – soldiers and citizens alike went to Bowling Green, a park in the Southern tip of Manhattan, where a statue of King George III on horseback stood.  The 4,000-pound lead statue was torn down and the head was cut off. Writing in his diary the next day, Washington expressed displeasure at this destruction of property by stating he hoped in the future people would leave this sort of thing “to the proper authorities.”  In the George Orwell novel 1984, one of his characters warned that:  “every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered . . . And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.”

These ‘cancel culture revisionists’ seek to eliminate any remembrance of those persons who were not perfect as defined by today’s standards. Yet absolute perfection is a quality that belongs to God alone. No matter how hard we try, we sin by our very nature and will always miss the mark. We commit sins of commission—doing that which we shouldn’t, as well as sins of omission—not doing that which we should.  Except for Jesus Christ, every other person who has walked the face of the earth was flawed. God sees and knows our shortcomings, and that is why in our daily walk we need His undeserved gift of grace. Our relationship to God, therefore, is not based on our perfection but rather in that of His Son’s.  Sinners need a Savior, and that’s why Jesus came. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). When we trust in Him, He will forgive our imperfections and iniquities. We can stop striving for an arbitrary, worldly “perfection” and rest in the One who is.

Followers of Christ should be encouraged to pursue perfection by maturing in their faith. “So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:4). The concept of tearing down and building up is repeatedly demonstrated in the scriptures as a model for repentance in each of our lives. But when we seek to erase history, be it personal or that of our nation – we risk losing any remembrance of the foundation on which we were built and are in danger of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. So regardless of how flawed our past may be, we do not want to lose sight of how far we have come. If it is, in fact perfection that we seek – better to hold onto the One who was perfect yesterday, is perfect today, and who will also be perfect tomorrow.

REFLECTION: What does our nation’s history mean to you, and how do we honor those who were flawed but rose to represent equal rights and justice? How do you show concern for actions that seek to erase Biblical history and destroy Christian values? In what ways does God’s perfect love set you free?

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