SURELY we would all prefer to go through life without making mistakes, particularly those that harm ourselves or others. Christ Jesus' demand ``Be ye therefore perfect,even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect''1 implies that spiritual perfection is attainable. We may wonder, though, just how we correct past blunders or even serious errors, forgive ourselves, and take active steps toward such perfection, especially when imperfection seems so typical. A friend once argued that the Bible verse just quoted really meant ``Be ye perfectly human.'' His theological view was that man, being inherently sinful, could not avoid mistakes and failures. But how, then, can we deal with heavy feelings of guilt and regret or the detrimental consequences of bad decisions? Can we shrug off all ignorant misdeeds -- big and small -- as ``normal''?
Several years ago I had an experience that impelled me to think a great deal about these questions. I was involved in an automobile accident and was charged as the party responsible. I mentally relived the accident and felt much guilt.
I began to find peace and healing in thinking about the Apostle Paul's life. Surely he must have had to overcome feelings of guilt and remorse for having persecuted Christians. After his famous vision and conversion to Christ's teachings, how did he deal with memories of his behavior?
Paul's writings do not directly address this question, but certain passages imply an answer. For instance: ``Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.''2 ``Put off...the old man,'' he urges the Ephesians. ``And...put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.''3
Christ Jesus' teachings and healing works showed that the real man is the image of God, Spirit, not a sinful mortal. This spiritual perception enabled Paul to see sin as an imposition on man that could be put off as one came to know his true, immortal identity, ``the new man,'' and ceased believing the misconception.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, says of this process of putting off ``the old man'': ``Perfection, the goal of existence, is not won in a moment; and regeneration leading thereto is gradual, for it culminates in the fulfilment of this divine rule in Science: `Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'''4
In my own situation, the question of fault was superseded by the need to recognize carelessness and dishonesty (and impersonal factors such as chance and probability) as misconceptions inherent in the erroneous ``old man.'' And I realized that I must put off this ``old man'' view of both the other driver and myself.
In court, I was found technically at fault, but the judge made no condemnatory remarks and ruled that no charges should be entered on my record. I was at peace with this outcome. I felt that through prayer and spiritual regeneration I had glimpsed something of man's blameless, Godlike character.
How much I gained from this experience! More humility, patience, and a deeper compassion. Most important, I learned that the best way to forgive ourselves is in the effort, like Paul's, to ``press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.'' God's will for us -- perfection -- supports us in our endeavors to think and live as ``the new man.''
1Matthew 5:48. 2Philippians 3:13, 14. 3See Ephesians 4:22-24. 4Miscellaneous Writings, p. 85.