A Perfectionist’s Perspective

August 15, 2023 | Jaci Miller

A born perfectionist. That’s me.

The tendency manifested early and noticeably when I was learning to write. Especially when I learned cursive (this dates me, I know). I traced every imperfection in my letters, trying to improve upon them, going over and over them until thick, black marks stared back at me. I couldn’t stand such ugliness so I erased and erased and tried again, only to have the same thing happen. Eventually I wore holes in my paper. So, I covered the holes with tape and wrote in pen over the taped area. The result? Disfigured assignments covered in thick, black pen marks and a lousy grade in handwriting.

My poor teacher.

Though my penmanship still lacks panache (I continue to trace my letters—gah!), some of my perfectionist tendencies have faded. But at heart, I still want to get things exactly right.

So, as I read through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers recently, the perfectionism required by the Hebraic law struck me. A perfect God demands perfect sacrifice, right? A certain type of animal, of a certain age, killed in a certain way, with certain additional offerings, then the carcass disposed of in a specific manner all for one specific reason. The list of specific reasons for the needed sacrifice? Lengthy. And the penalty for getting any of it wrong? Exile or death.

A nightmare for even a perfectionist. Disaster for everyone else.

But perhaps that was the point of the law. We couldn’t be perfect in our atonement process. We couldn’t make things right by ourselves. We deserved death.

Hebrews 9:9 says, “This [the tabernacle/temple offering system] is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.” In the same book, it states that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4).

So, why all the animal sacrifice? “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood” (9:16-18).

Death is required to inherit. The shedding of blood in place of our own.

But if a death was required, and the sacrifice of animals couldn’t accomplish what was needed, what was to be done?

All the death and mess and perfectionism of the sacrificial system pointed to the need for a greater, perfect sacrifice. One that actually could redeem, not just cover up, the people of God.

Enter Christ. “He did not enter [the tabernacle] by means of the blood of goats and calves, but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

A truly perfect sacrifice. Performed by a perfect priest. For every shortcoming in the old system, Christ accounted. He filled every gap. No more animals would need to die in vain. No more struggling to appease a perfect God. No more fear of failing. God placed the perfection required onto Jesus. How merciful!

The pursuit of perfectionism is ugly (like my handwriting). Attempts at it only exhaust. But Jesus, born perfect, stomped on perfectionism, told it to go to Hell, and embraced us with a love that redeems. Because of Him, we don’t have to get things exactly right.