What does it mean to be perfect? Does perfection require conformity? Do you sacrifice individuality in the pursuit of perfection? Is perfection the same as being flawless or otherwise without mistakes? Can you be perfect and flawed as long as those flaws are perfect imperfections? Is God perfect in the same way that we are meant to be perfect? Or does God have a different sort of perfection? If there are varying degrees, how do you advance from one to another? Can you be perfect and progressing?
Let’s start off looking at the Oxford English Dictionary. The first given definition for “perfect” is “Of, marked, or characterized by supreme moral or spiritual excellence or virtue; righteous, holy; immaculate; spiritually pure or blameless.” This seems to be pretty appropriate for our purposes. It’s interesting to me that this first definition does not include the “flawless” aspect that I have linked pretty closely with the idea of perfection. Another definition that may prove useful, that is marked as now obsolete, is “Completely formed, finished, or made; completely prepared or made ready.” This second one seems to compliment the idea of “perfect” meaning “complete”, which I’ve heard frequently at Church is a better translation of “perfect” in many scriptural passages.
Together those definitions seem like a decent place to work from. Perhaps the most famous scriptural verse about perfection is this one:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48
That seems to answer at least one of the questions that I posed earlier—that the perfection we are striving for is the same as the perfection that God has. This is the verse that I most frequently hear people substitute “complete” for “perfect.” I get the desire to move away from “perfect” as it seems to induce unhealthy perfectionist tendencies in us, but I honestly don’t really know what “complete” means in this context. Complete like a puzzle that finally had the last pieces put into place? Complete like the final steps of a villain’s maniacal plan to rule the world? Complete as in finished? Complete as in whole? Complete as in one with God? Complete as in married—finding the yin to your yang or something like that?
I’m not quite sure what to do with it.
Yet, I had a thought that complicates things, but may prove enlightening. My mind synthesized some pretty disparate stuff (some offhand comments from Sunstone, a testimony in my YSA ward, passages I read in Adam Miller’s Future Mormon and my subsequent thoughts, a throwaway line from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, etc.) into a thought that spins off of a popular verse:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27
This is another verse that I don’t quite know what to do with and seems to be read in strikingly divergent ways. Coupled with Paul’s passage in the New Testament about weakness and praying to be rid of it, but God reinforcing that the weakness was necessary, it seems to me that weak things becoming strong does not mean that our weaknesses are transformed into strengths, in the sense that whatever weakness I have is fundamentally altered in some way to become something it was not.
Perhaps weakness is a part of perfection.
I know that seems radical and frightening and blasphemous and all that. And, honestly, I don’t really know the implications of such a thought, but what if weaknesses really are some sort of perfect imperfections (as cheesy and irritating as that song is)?
Eugene England posits in his beautiful essay “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel” (which I LOVE) that the imperfect and sometimes frustrating nature of the Church is precisely what allows it to be the perfect laboratory for Christlike love. A specific case of a perfect imperfection.
Perhaps I am reaching for this idea because I cannot believe in a world where perfection equals sameness and complete conformity. So, perfect imperfections seems to be an interpretation that allows for, and in some sense demands, individuality in perfection.
I don’t really know how that works. I feel confident that the breadth and depth of personalities that we see in the world would not exist if God desired all of us to give up everything we are to fit into some sort of divine mold.
Does that mean that if I were God instead of God being God that things down here would look different? Maybe. Would one of those worlds be clearly better than the other one? Perhaps. Yet, I think it’s possible for two (or three or four or a million) different worlds to exist that are equally good. Just different.
Am I suggesting that God has weaknesses? Maybe. Can you have a weakness and not act on it? Is it really a weakness if you never give in to it? Is the struggle against it what gives you strength and individuality? Are there other mechanisms for individuality besides weakness?
I feel that God wants me to be the best, most perfect, complete version of Conor that I can be. Not the best, most perfect, complete version of you or Pres. Monson, or Sheri Dew, or Gandhi, or whoever.
If that’s true, how do I strive for being the best me? How do I truly seek out perfection, while maintaining who I am? Which qualities are essential to my identity and which ones can be sacrificed? If I embody all the Christlike attributes in Preach My Gospel do I do that the same way that someone else does? Or can different people exhibit “supreme moral or spiritual excellence” in those attributes in different ways?
I don’t know how to resolve these questions. But I’ll strive to love God with all my heart, might, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. As I do that and work to do it better, I think I’ll be guided to where I need to go, and to who I need to be.