perfection is a process

Christ was not yet perfect as a child. At least that’s what Hebrews 2:10 says, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (ESV) (pathéma Strong’s: (a) suffering, affliction, (b) passion, emotion, (c) an undergoing, an enduring). The mystery that God would require that Jesus suffer as a means of training is not lost on us who suffer.

But, let’s be clear, suffering for doing wrong is not the same as suffering as training. It is similar in that suffering for doing wrong can teach us a lesson, but it brings us no closer to perfection, since, in some brutish fashion punishment brings us to ground zero in the scheme of things, purifies us to begin again. Tho wounds we sustain, however, debilitate us from achieving possible heights. On some account, pleasures have to be paid back. As John Stuart Mill suggests, the abuse of lower pleasures makes one unfit for higher ones.

The movement toward perfection comes from suffering that comes to humans as strong emotion in conflict, suffering for doing good. As trite as it sounds, we have a saying for that, “No good deed goes unpunished.” But to ennoble the phrase, it is an ordinary experience for humans to be misunderstood, and to be treated badly for good deeds.

Up until the point where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he mostly tells people whom he performs miracles on not to spread the news. Why does he do that? It’s obvious he’s not successful, people tell stories and he becomes famous for doing these things. But there’s a moment of strong emotion before he raises Lazarus from the dead. He raises Lazarus in front of people who will initiate his crucifixion in response. One must wonder at his sense of timing, his knowledge of what must lie ahead. He is not stoic. He must recognize the price he must pay for the designed perfection. In the garden of Gethsemane we are told the emotion was crushing, enough so that he dripped with sweat. Is this the press that brought Christ to perfection? I think so, and I also think that something like this is the thing that brings us to perfection as well. But I think, most of us dodge the necessity of it, not filling our role as humans in the design of God. At least, we do not drink the full cup of it.

Hebrews 6:1 tells us to move on to maturity, to perfection (teleiotés) not going over the axioms of faith again, but moving to their logical conclusion in the action faith requires. The reason why people refuse to grow up is that it requires suffering. The Greek word is one that is part of a constellation of ideas surrounding the belief that there is a future destined for individuals, and in the Bible that is in God, especially in the Church, and only in exceptional cases, outside of it. In general it is to become like Christ in full Christian character. For a person in Christ, in the Church, a further destiny must discovered by each individual. That particular path must be taken in cooperation with God through, again, suffering of strong emotion and perhaps physical stress, harm, or death. However, for Christians in the USA, the suffering does not often lead to death.

The conclusion is that Christ suffered, we will too if we are following him. The puzzle is to sort out whether we deserve the suffering as a consequence of our misuse of the world’s goods, or as a consequence of being a person who is following Christ. And then there is suffering for others, the task that perfection must carry out. It is in this that there is reward for eternity, and not without it.

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