Recently, I was thinking about crystals as illustrations. Not an uncommon thought; our imaginations are captured by their unique properties, and these properties make them interesting comparisons. A crystal’s beauty and unique properties stem from special construction on the atomic scale. Its smallest parts are arranged in a repeating, orderly manner that forms a lattice. Although some crystals gain value from impurities, the finest have none at all. In fact, their lattice structures are perfect, with neither foreign materials, nor missing elements. It is this particular example of perfection that is interesting.
Since the lattice is formed of discrete structures, there is no such thing as a partial defect; they occur in singular fashion: one at a time, with no partials. An imperfect lattice may have one defect, but it cannot have half a defect, or a third, or anything like that. It’s either all or nothing. Hence, a lattice’s perfect nature is a binary property. It either is perfect, or is not perfect.
This illustrates the binary nature of perfection itself. Something can be totally perfect, or not. There are no shades of gray; that which is not quite perfect, is not perfect at all.
However, we like to think something is essentially perfect if the level of defect is small enough, because we humans don’t live in a binary world. Ours is a world of many shades of gray, while perfection is either black or white. Such absoluteness makes us uncomfortable. It forces decision, creates conflict, and so is rarely acknowledged. Instead, we insist on gray, flexibility, and getting along.
The human desire to impose gray shows up in our attitude towards deity. Let’s say we consider the deity to be perfectly good and loving. And we acknowledge ourselves as imperfect in many ways. We commonly see no problem in an association between the two, for if the deity were loving enough, then tolerance of a little imperfection shouldn’t be a problem. But this flies in the face of what we just said about perfection. And if we consider the deity to be anything less than perfect, then we are really talking about some sort of super-duper hero, rather than the divine.
I see this as a picture of the central dilemma of the Christian faith. God is revealed as the all-loving source of life, eternally faithful, and all good with no evil. Having made all creation, the real truth is that He defines good and evil, rather than meeting a human definition or understanding. Therefore He is perfect, and the binary nature of perfection leads to a complete lack of place for the imperfect (us). There is no matter of degree, no possibility of “good enough”, else we end up back with just a superhero. So then how can we associate with such a being?
Or more correctly, how could the deity associate with us? The answer, of course, is that it is impossible. Yet we exist, so what gives? Of course, one possibility is that God doesn’t exist, but that’s not very interesting.
The solution we’ve been given is a substitute. Since God is the source of all life, being isolated from him leads to death. But instead of our death, it is possible for the death of another to substitute. This results in purity that begins now and is fulfilled beyond this life, making it possible for us to continue life with Him. We become defect-free as it were, and have a place in the lattice.
That substitute death was Jesus Christ’s, when Christians speak of His crucifixion. His death was effective because He was God incarnate, and the effectiveness of it was demonstrated by His resurrection. Whether this applies to us is a matter of choice. Our choice is to accept the reality of the substitution, and the exchange of life that it implies. Or, we can accept existence without the source of life.
This exchange of life starts now, by accepting the priorities of God along with His endless life. Prioritizing love above self, and eternity above the temporal, we see reality in a whole new way. We become free to live life newly, and endlessly.