Thursday, February 14, 2013

Good and Very Good

In the creative process, one strives for perfection even while accepting that it will never be achieved.  When I write I want it to be perfect, and I am constantly revising.  I write a sentence and immediately ask myself, “Does this say what I want it to say, in the way I want to say it?  Can I say it better, more concisely, more vividly, more clearly?”  Sometimes I write a sentence and immediately know it’s bad.  Sometimes it’s so bad that I erase the whole thing and start over, but usually it’s a matter of some revising—changing a word , adding or deleting a clause, rearranging the order of things.  “There, that’s better,” I'll think.  Better.  Not perfect.  Not necessarily even good.  Just...better than it was.  An improvement.  I'll do the same thing with paragraphs, and finally, when it’s all written, I'll go back and read the whole thing, getting a sense of the flow.  I'll make other word or sentence changes.  Sometimes I'll see that a paragraph, good in isolation, isn’t so good as a part of the whole, and it’ll have to be revised or even eliminated.  In pursuit of perfection, this could go on endlessly.  Fortunately there are deadlines to meet—I need to send the article to Erin for her to include in the bulletin, or it’s 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday and I have to get to church, or I have other things I want to do with my life other than endlessly revise something I’ve written.  However the deadlines come, I have to say, “There.  That’s as good as it’s going to get.” Never have I said, “Wow, that’s perfect.  There is nothing more to do to make it better.”  Never.
Then the question is, when I read the thing again, will I see the good that I’ve written, or will the flaws, the weaknesses, the could-be-betters stand out so much that they overwhelm anything and everything else?  All too often it’s the latter.  “The good is the enemy of the great” is a common aphorism in many circles.  Translation: don’t settle for merely good, not even for merely very good.  Don’t stop until you reach the great.  And if the good is the enemy of the great, the great is the enemy of the perfect.  And that’s a tough standard to have to live up to.
Ask most people what the world was like when God created it, and most will say, “It was perfect.”  I know, because I have asked, and this is what I hear most often.  The world, before sin entered, was perfect.
But the word perfect is never mentioned is Genesis 1.  On day one God creates light.  Amazing stuff, this light.  Fastest thing in the universe, it’s heat and illumination and photosynthesis and all sorts of things.  And yet God simply says, “It’s good.”  And on it goes, day after day.  “It’s good.”  Then on the sixth day God says, “It’s very good.”  Now much is often made of the fact that God only says that creation is very good after he creates the humans, as if we are the pinnacle of all creation, but I rather think that God was saying, “This was the final piece.  There’s nothing more I need to add.”  The final piece isn’t necessarily the best piece—often isn’t—it’s just the last one.  It’s not the humans that make it all very good, it’s the whole thing taken together that he is pronouncing to be very good.
The point is, things went from good to very good, which means that things were never perfect.   Perfection can’t be improved; any change in perfection results in less-than-perfect.  But God’s goal in creation was never perfection; it seems that what he was going for was something that was good and very good and always with the potential to be even better.   Which means there was always something less than perfect.  But God doesn’t look at the less than perfect and say, “That’s bad, let’s scrap the whole thing,” he says, “That’s good, let’s make it better!
Do you find yourself thinking when God looks at you all he sees are the flaws?  I think God looks at you and all his children and says, “That’s very good!  Let’s keep going!”  That’s the process of spiritual transformation—he takes the good in us and makes it even better.  And God doesn’t work on a deadline when he has to say, “That’s as good as it will ever get.”  No, he has all of eternity.
And in Christ, so do we.

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