Sunday, December 18, 2016

Can God Expect Us to be Good?

You’ve probably heard some variant of this: “Nobody’s perfect, so you can’t expect me to be, either.” I added an emphasis to the word “expect” so we can talk a bit about what’s going on here. We often intuitively agree with this; we shouldn’t expect perfection from someone. And yet it seems God expects perfection from us (and Christians think God is correct in doing so). So what is going on here, exactly? Is this a problem?

I think, at bottom, what is going on concerns an ambiguity in the way we use “expect.” Or at least in the context of the usage of the word. When we say that we cannot expect perfection from someone, what we typically mean is that perfection is not a reasonable outcome in a merely finite person. And that seems right.

But it also seems that this is not how we’re using “expect” when it comes to God expecting perfection of us. Instead, this is more like holding someone to an obligation. So when God expects perfection from us on his moral law, this means any infraction is a violation of the law more broadly construed (cf. James 2.10). It’s something to think about for today.

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