Most of us can’t say we have a perfect father. Sure, we can list his good traits, all the things he has done for us and the values he has taught us. But we can also list what he left undone, ways in which he has failed us and the baggage we inherited from him (mostly unconsciously).
Throughout a child’s life they learn by imitating their parents. While we used to think this kind of mirroring stops at adulthood, social sciences have increasingly shown us that parental influence extends far beyond the time we reach independence. We are much more like our parents than we often realise—throughout our life our father figures and role models continue to have an effect on us.
So is there such thing as a perfect father? I would suggest yes. Bear with me to see why.
What is perfection, anyway?
For most of my adult life, I understood perfection as a state in which one is exempt from mistakes. Being someone who likes growth and appreciates quality, this picture of perfection has put quite a bit of pressure on me. I found myself chasing an illusion, a constancy that did not even make logical sense.
My view of perfection implied a static way of being, and a static being is not compatible with personhood. In other words, to be perfect in the way I understood perfection was to be an impersonal constancy, a fixed point—much like Aristotle’s concept of the unmoved mover. If perfection is a state you achieve, you can no longer change once you reach that state, since there is no higher status to attain. So, my idea of perfection was abstract, robotic and insular.
Interestingly, as a Christian, I have at times thought of God in similar terms. God is portrayed as perfect in the Bible: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48). I saw God as impersonal, demanding and a quality control freak.
Interestingly, my view of God’s perfection does not exist in a vacuum. The Greek philosophical ideas of perfection and of God were highly influential in the early Christian Church and through medieval times. This means that, for a long time, this father God was seen more as an impersonal force rather than a loving Father.
How to understand perfection
Yet, there were other factors that influenced my picture of God’s love, especially my experience with my father. While not the most present parent, he was certainly not impersonal. He was also not demanding and was definitely not a quality control freak. This created a dissonance in my mind. Could it be possible that my father is a better being than God, my spiritual Father? The answer had to be no.
How then should I think of God as a Father and how should I understand perfection?
On the surface, Matthew 5:48 does not seem to require interpretation. It reads and sounds simple, and the command appears to be quite straightforward. But much of our interpretation of this text depends on how we understand perfection.
If I understand perfection in Greek terms as an impersonal and static way of being, I would form an image of God from that perspective. And, to make matters worse, I would believe that God also wants me to be like this. This is the kind of Christianity that is self-flagellating and extremely judgemental of others. Think of it as a highly critical context “meant” to help us achieve perfection.
The definition of perfection
God’s portrait in the Bible—which is quite detailed—does not fit with the Greeks’ static and impersonal notion of God and perfection. In the Bible, God is personal. He communicates with us in words, He comes to us and dwells with us, He is self-sacrificial as we see in the story of Christ Jesus, He guides us, and He experiences a range of emotions in His relationship with us, which shows that He feels with us and has feelings towards us.
God is present but not overbearing. He offers a good example and hopes that by spending more time in His presence, we naturally become more like Him. He does not just tell us what love is—He shows us what love is through His actions. And not only is God in a relationship with us, the triune God exists as a relationship of mutual love and in a unifying common purpose.
The definition of God is the definition of perfection. God, our heavenly Father, is perfection. And if God is not a static point, but a personal and relational God, then perfection is not a state to reach, but a way of being, which allows for movement, change and relationship—a context in which we can live our fluid existence, including growth and development.
If we are to be perfect, as God is perfect, then we just need to be like God: to love in a context of freedom, put others first and value others more than our own life. This is not a state of being to reach, but a way of being that accompanies us wherever we are in time and space.
Of fatherhood, perfection and change
I wonder how many things we get wrong about God because of the different influences in our lives? Our concepts are formed and informed by so many factors, and the natural tendency is to transpose those on the religious concepts.
Raising questions, seeking answers and confronting our views with statements and passages from God’s word can help us to grasp the depth and damage of this dissonance and to recreate our picture of God.
The Bible invites us to test its truth with reason. We only have to become familiar with the Bible to see what it actually says about God, ourselves, our life purpose and more.
My familiarity with the Bible resulted in a deconstruction of my erroneous views and this had a great impact on my personal development. I no longer chase illusions of perfection. Instead, I seek to imitate God, my heavenly Father, by learning what it means to be a part of relationships where love is central. This is a lifelong journey, but that is okay, because I don’t feel the pressure of arriving at a certain point.
In fact, if I ever feel like I’ve figured it all out, I would lose the mystery, the growth and the ever-deepening roots of divine truth that enrich my experience as a person living out her own history.
Adelina Alexe is a systematic theology student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts and meaningful conversations.