This past weekend I attended the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. I didn’t really know what to expect (it was my first “writers conference” in my life!) but my favorite part was, by far, connecting with other Christian women writers. Shout out to all you amazing ladies!
One of the writers I FINALLY got to meet was Amy Julia Becker. You may remember that I’ve featured her here on my blog before. She recently came out with a memoir about her daughter, Penny, who was born with Down Syndrome, and I posted two excerpts from her book last Fall.
Amy Julia’s book has received rave reviews, and even if this is a topic that does not seem immediately relevant to your life, I would still encourage you to check it out. Amy Julia has processed her daughter’s life from a profoundly theological perspective, and the conclusions she has reached are not only powerful, but applicable to us all.
At the conference, I attended a session that Amy Julia presented on the topic of perfection. Upon the birth of her daughter, she began to question whether or not Down Syndrome should be considered a result of the Fall. Would children have been born with Down Syndrome prior to the effects of sin? And even more thought provoking, will people still have Down Syndrome in Heaven?
For a lot of Christians, we answer those questions without even giving them much thought. Of course Down Syndrome would not have existed prior to the Fall, and of course no one will have Down Syndrome in Heaven. …Right?
Amy Julia, on the other hand, challenges this notion by looking at the nature of human limitation. For many of us, it seems natural to think of limitations as a consequence of living in a broken world. Had sin not entered the world, we would not be inhibited by the limitations that make life challenging.
Or would we?
Here Amy Julia points out that humans had limitations long before the Fall. They were needy beings who were dependent on God for both sustenance and spiritual wholeness. They could not function without stopping for food or rest, and they certainly couldn’t live an abundant, joyful life apart from unity with God.
In a state of perfection, Adam and Eve had limitations.
Likewise, Jesus himself had limitations. He too needed food and rest like any other human being. There were also times when he needed comfort from the disciples. He was not an autonomous person without limitations, but a “needy” human being who needed both God and his community.
From these examples, Amy Julia concluded that limitations are not a mark of the Fall. Instead, these examples display what it means to be human. God created us to have limitations because they unite us to Him and to one another. And because these limitations serve to unite us with God, we can fully expect to have limitations in Heaven. We will forever be “needy” beings who can have no true existence apart from the sustaining grace of God.
This re-envisioning of limitations is important for many reasons, one of which is the way it shapes our language about human perfection. For example, Amy Julia noted that during prenatal check-ups it is common to hear ultrasound technicians describe a baby as “perfect.” “Perfect” meaning without flaws and without evident limitations.
But Amy Julia questions this definition of perfection. Is perfection really the absence of flaws? Does perfection really require the absences of those things which make us fallible, ugly, or weak?
Amy Julia argues that this is a worldly definition of perfection, and that we should instead think of perfection as that which makes us whole by bringing us closer to our created design, which is union with God and one another.
Worldly perfection, on the other hand, can actually thwart this design by alienating us from one another as we all strive to be perfect in competition with one another. Worldly perfection also leads us away from God–why would we need God if we’re perfectly perfect without Him?
Christian perfection, however, is not the absence of worldly limitations. Instead it embraces them. Christian perfection means becoming that which God created us to be–in His image–and joined with Him in perfect union.
This understanding of perfection sheds a helpful light on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:30:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
This verse, and others like it, is a paradigm shift. Although some limitations are certainly the result of sin (such as systemic injustices that keep populations of people in poverty), it is important to remember that we have God-given limitations that are good because they ensure our dependence on Him and on one another.
It is with this understanding of perfection in mind that Amy Julia can look upon her daughter, a child that the world would label “imperfect,” and confidently declare that she is a good and perfect creation. She may not be perfect by worldly standards, and she certainly bears the mark of sin just we all do, but she is also perfect in the sense that God designed her according to His own good plans. What’s more, Penny’s “limitations” not only draw her closer to God and others, but they have a similar effect on her family as well.
In a world that seeks to rid itself of limitations in the quest for perfection, I find this to be a liberating perspective, though it is certainly difficult to live out. I am more inclined to hide my weaknesses than boast in them. Even so, I hope it is a perspective that more Christians will endorse. We are, after all, in the business of glorifying God, not ourselves. A model of humanity that affirms the beauty of limitations is certainly compatible with–and even necessary for–our created end.