It seems to me that one of the things this author is pointing to is that to put a bow on the image of God, so to speak, with the crowning adjective “perfect,” does seem to imply that humans know the whole story of God and creation. And, when we name God “perfect,” it does seem that we are choosing to reject some of the messy details of God’s relationship with humanity in favor of an overarching metanarrative that insists on the accuracy of its plot regardless of the contrary voices. What are we really trying to protect by insisting on God’s perfection? What does that adjective even mean when applied to God? I mean, I understand what it means to say that God loves perfectly–but that’s using perfect as an adverb, not as an adjective, and the difference is important: I can trust and hope in a God whose activity toward humankind expresses perfect love, mercy, judgment and grace; but to actually attribute the being of God as “perfection”–well, now we are just completely out of human league, aren’t we?
In my view, then, this idea of an imperfect God reminds us of all that humans do not know–cannot know–about God and God’s vision for creation. It reminds us that God is both more than we can ever fully understand–and also ever-new, surprising us in fresh ways with new insights about who God is and how/where God is at work in the world. Particularly at this time of year, then, when we welcome with joy a God who chooses to come to us in nascent form: helpless, dependent, and with years of growth–potty-training, teething–ahead of him, the idea of an imperfect God reminds us to rethink and question the traditional images we always use for God, and challenge some of the things we think we know about God. In so doing, we can create some fertile space for new thoughts, new ideas, and new images of God, that help us receive God in new ways. And that’s always a good thing.
What would you say to the idea of an imperfect God? If you are Christian, you are probably skeptical–imperfection is NOT typically touted as an attribute of God, quite the contrary, actually. This article is written from a Jewish perspective, and it’s interesting enough on that account alone: what is it in Judaism that allows for this type of flexible, “realistic” reflection about God? And, by contrast, what is it in Christian theology that [typically] rejects such a suggestion out of hand?
But, as a Christian, I also want to think about what Christians might learn from this reflection: is there some insight God’s imperfection might suggest to us?
Here’s the paragraph in the article that I thought was particularly insightful:
“The attempt to think of God as a perfect being is misguided for another reason as well. We can speak of the perfection of a bottle or a horse because these are things that can be encompassed (at least in some sense) by our senses and understanding. Having the whole bottle before us, we feel we can judge how close it is to being a perfect instance of its type. But if asked to judge the perfection of a bottle poking out of a paper bag, or of a horse that’s partly hidden in the stable, we’d surely protest: How am I supposed to know? I can only see part of it.”