Written By Raphael Zhang, Singapore
“Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have,” writes the American poet Mary Oliver. This was a line that resonated with me for several years.
For the longest time, I wrestled a lot with guilt and shame. I wanted badly to walk right before God, but I felt I was failing Him all the time, and no matter how much I told Him I wouldn’t sin in the future, it wouldn’t be long before I fell into sin again.
I tried to deal with these unwanted feelings by being a perfectionist. I thought that if I just did and said all the right things, people would approve of me and like me. I felt I needed their validation to assure me that I wasn’t bad, and that I was good enough.
Once, I shared with a group of Christians that I felt life was an unending and exhausting pursuit for a goodness that always eluded me. The group leader said, “You can either hold on to God’s Word or hold on to your feelings.” Over the years, I saw the truth and wisdom of what he said.
God is Not a Perfectionist
One day, many years ago, this truth occurred to me: “God is perfect, not a perfectionist.”
Perfectionism says, “Every single thing must be perfect and good all the time, and any flaw—however tiny—would cause the whole thing to be imperfect, and therefore, ruined.”
I realized that if God were a perfectionist, He would have instantly wiped out humanity the minute Adam and Eve sinned, because He would not have been able to tolerate any flaw existing and persisting in His creation. He would have created us with no room for choice, because that would eliminate any room for error. He would be a controlling, micro-managing God, unable to permit any possibility of imperfection.
However, God is not like that. Instead, He is “patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He gives us the dignity of the freedom of choice, even though there’s no guarantee we will always use it to love Him.
God isn’t intolerant of mistakes. True, perfection is an ideal we are to aim for (Matthew 5:48), but God knows we won’t get it right all of the time. What He values is our devotion and desire to keep trying to walk right before Him.
God Looks for Devotion
We all admire King David as the man whom the Lord Himself described as “a man after [His] own heart” (Acts 13:22), but his life was far from perfect! He had committed adultery and murder, and conducted a national census in disobedience to God.
I remember being struck by what God said about David’s heart being fully devoted to Him (1 Kings 11:4) and how “My servant David. . . kept My commands and followed Me with all his heart, doing only what was right in My eyes” (1 Kings 14:8).
Seriously? Even after all David had done?
It occurred to me in that moment that God sees perfection very much differently from how I see it. I would not even have come close to saying anything like that about David’s life. And yet that’s how the Lord sees his life.
Although David’s life wasn’t perfect, he was willing to confess his sins before God each time he sinned (Psalm 51; 2 Samuel 24:10). That was a sign of his wholeheartedness to God, which God valued.
God Looks for Desire to Walk Right
To be sure, no one is sinless. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” The Word of God tells us plainly that everyone has sinned. If God were a perfectionist, this would have disqualified all of us once and for all from being accepted by Him.
However, the Word also tells us to “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7). How is it possible to acknowledge that we will fall short, yet still be able to walk in the light? I believe this is only possible because God makes provisions for us to get up and walk right with Him again when we fall.
It’s like being a runner in a race. The runner may fall several times, but just because he falls, it doesn’t mean he’s disqualified. He can still get up and keep running to finish the race. I believe God values our desire to keep getting up and running towards Him.
God Forgives Us through Jesus
We can get up again after falling only because there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The Bible assures us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
In the past, I always struggled with accepting God’s forgiveness. When I fell into sin, I felt guilty, condemned, and worthless. I felt so much shame that I didn’t dare or want to approach God because He is holy and I felt tainted. But whenever I hid from God—like Adam and Eve did when they sinned—that always caused me to backslide for a period of time.
I have since learned that the first place I need go to when I sin is actually “God’s throne of grace,” so that I can “receive mercy and find grace to help [me] in [my] time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). It is there that I can find relief and freedom from my guilt.
Hence, whenever I fall into sin now, I immediately go to the foot of the Cross, at which I can receive total forgiveness by Jesus’ blood. Instead of trusting in my own feelings, I choose to believe in the reality of God’s promise that when I confess my sins to Him, God, in His faithfulness and justice, will not only forgive me but also purify me from all unrighteousness, making me “clean” and “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
God is Always Good
Because of this, I am continually filled with gratitude to the Lord. What kind of God would sacrifice His only, beloved Son for you and me because He wants to be our Father? (2 Corinthians 6:18) That blows me away each time I think about it.
I will not always make good choices, but I can anchor myself on the truth that God is always good. In response to shame, which says, “There is something wrong with me,” I remember that because of what Jesus has done on the cross, the Father has accepted me in His beloved Son (Ephesians 1:6 (KJV)), lavishing His great love on me, His beloved child (1 John 3:1).
In response to guilt, which says, “I’ve done something wrong,” I remind myself that there is always forgiveness of sin by the blood of His Son. Now that I am a son of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5), though I may stumble from time to time, I know that the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17) gives me grace to keep walking better in the light.
Therefore, I can say with the Apostle Paul, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
So I no longer identify with the line by Mary Oliver. Sure, there are some days when I still struggle with trying not to counteract my shame and guilt issues with perfectionism. But as I grow in this journey, I am now more able to say: Every morning, I wake with thirst for God, who is always so so good to me (Psalm 42:1).