Perfect means complete

And now let’s put things right.

That seems to be my daughter’s goal with every game she plays. Everything needs to end up right where it belongs: baby cheetah with mama cheetah, dragon husband with dragon wife, all back in bed together where they belong. Barbie needs Ken, and Ken must have his mate, that no four-year-old can deny.

We drove past the ravished corn fields with their crowds of Canada geese, busily taking what they needed from between the rows. I half-turned my head to the back seat, where my little girl was gazing out the window, and I said, “Those are geese. See all their long, black necks? They are eating the corn that is left on the ground, and then they will fly up together and go somewhere warmer to live for the winter.” It was as it should be. The geese knew where to go. She nodded her little corn-golden head, taking the information in and filing it away where it needed to go.

What an immense delight to pour out knowledge into the ear a willing child. It’s one of the few times you can think, “This is exactly what I need to be doing. I did it right. She wanted to know, and I told her.” Key in lock. Fill up the glass. A purely satisfying moment.

It’s not childishness that makes us delight in putting things to rights, in bringing them home where they belong. Even in the midst of turmoil, we find a primal if fleeting satisfaction in finishing a task, turning chaos into order, making a jumble come out even. The most “adult” of activities is terribly, terribly basic in this regard. It’s stunningly simple: This is made to go inside that. Ever ask yourself, “But why does it somehow seem good, true, or beautiful to fit one thing inside another? What does that even mean?”

It means that, for once, things are where they belong. And that’s not nothing. It’s actually everything. It’s what we’re made to long for. It’s what we were made to do.

For many years, I was hung up on the idea that Heaven would be boring. The only interesting things I’d ever encountered were wobbly, wounded, fascinatingly warped. It was hard enough to conceive of any state of being for eternity, but maddening to imagine that it would be a dull state of being. I thought, with my untidy brain, that perfection meant utter tidiness.

It’s the old Ned Flanders heresy: that the Lord God of Hosts took on flesh in a blaze of glory, shook Jerusalem to its foundations with his words, was torn apart by whips and nails and bled dry; that he harrowed the deadlands and then in the morning came shooting out of the grave like a geyser of light, upending the armies of Hell with a flick of His resurrected finger, striding forth to establish the Church and then to ascend with unspeakable joy to the right hand of his Father, and now He calls upon us, His children, saying “BE YE . . .

. . . tidy.” With a tucked-in shirt and a clean part in our hair. You know, perfect.

No. That can’t be it. He wants us to be perfect, but perfect means complete. Perfect means that everything is where it is supposed to be — not with mere tidiness, like a paperclip in a paperclip holder, but back where it was created to belong, like a lost child coming home, like the fulfillment of a lifelong promise, like the flesh of two made one. That kind of completion.

If that sounds boring to you, then you’re doing it wrong.

What we catch now, in rare moments of respite, is a reminder of who we are and for what we were made. A reminder, as we drive by the ravished fields, that we can glean what’s left between the rows of corn, but it’s only a stop along the way. We were made to go home. Find out what you were made to do, and go home.


A version of this post originally ran in 2016.


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5 thoughts on “Perfect means complete”

  1. Isn’t it interesting that the quintessential expression of perfection or completeness is ‘love of enemy’ — expressed by Jesus in Matt 5:43-48? To have that kind of love is to be home. Thank you for your post. I’d love to read more of your essays with a ‘perfect’, ‘perfection’ or ‘tidiness’ tag.

  2. I can’t quite get past the part about how sex, if you do it right, points toward heaven the same way Tetris does.

  3. Even the best-informed believers often forget that the whole point of Christianity is not that we will be disembodied spirits throughout eternity, but that someday our bodies and souls will rise again as one. An embodied human soul will not live like an angel but like a perfected person, in a perfected creation, surely? God’s ultimate plan for us is not Heaven but the reunion of heaven and earth, of which we in our new bodies will be a part.

    I hesitate to write this as I am no theologian, and the only theologian I have read on the subject is the non-Catholic N.T. Wright, but I do not think the above is very far from Catholic teaching. Wright does go astray from the Catholic view in that for him there is no communion of the saints, as far as I was able to make out, in his work, and there may well be other areas of his thought that a knowledgeable Catholic would reject.

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