We pressure ourselves to death chasing the Barbie ideal.
For fifty-seven years, the Barbie Doll has represented an impossible standard for the female form. Bowing to popular pressure, Mattel will now ease away from iconic perfection and offer Barbie in more realistic body types.
Nothing has been said yet about Ken and his disturbing six-pack-and-tan-and-perfect-hair combo. I’m looking forward to a new sensible Ken, who has coffee stained teeth, reading glasses, and soft belly. That way he can stop undermining my self-esteem and I can get on with the peaceful experience of being me.
I Hate Perfection, but I Wish I Had It
Perfection bugs us. We claim to dislike it, yet secretly covet it. Hate the old Barbie all you want, but we celebrate her skinny curves. The general public gobbles up every piece of celebrity news fixated on beautiful bodies. Who got their figure back after pregnancy and how do they now look in a bikini? Who had the most to show off at awards ceremonies? It’s rarely the person who’s losing a battle on the bathroom scale.
The real problem with Barbie perfection isn’t that it makes heavier, out-of-shape mortals feel bad. Worse, it’s a perfection that stops at skin level. After all the effort, there’s no energy or interest left for anything deeper.
We’re reminded of the grandmotherly proverb “It’s the inside that counts.” We like that kind of talk. Some of us still have a shot at being awesome. We can cultivate smarts, character, morality, even religion. Thank goodness for inward beauty. If I can’t look good in a swimsuit, at least I could have a great education.
You Must Have Done Something Wrong?
But surprise of surprises, perfection—inside or out—isn’t good enough. Not for God, anyway.
For instance, the Bible tells us Job was blameless and upright. Still, God allowed him to go through all manner of sufferings. Obviously the torments he endured were not due to a closet drug addiction. Job was righteous. Even God said so—“The LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’” (Job 1:8).
Of course, this only heightens the mystery surrounding why the devil was allowed to maul the man. Job spends most of his time wondering, Why? Thousands of years later we read the book of Job, and wonder the same thing.
Job’s friends assumed he had secretly sinned. Yet, behavioral perfection was not the issue. If it had been, the book would have been over in the very first verse: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” What need for the story to go further?
The fact is, God was after something so far off Job’s radar, neither he nor his befuddled friends could label it.
Maybe I’ve Done Everything Right…According to Me
Though God never directly divulges the reason for Job’s sufferings, we can find clues later on in the Bible. For those of us wondering why bad things happen to righteous people, the Apostle Paul identifies the presence of more than one kind of righteousness.
First, there is the human variety. This righteousness tends to be like a department store mannequin that looks like a real person from a distance. Up close though, it proves to be nothing more than hollow plaster. Human righteousness is cultivated through religious culture and accomplishments (Phil. 3:4-8). Paul called it “righteousness of my own” (Phil. 3:9).
Then there is the authentic righteousness of God, which has a “pulse” and substance. It is cultivated according to faith in Jesus Christ and involvement with the Holy Spirit. Paul called it “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).
When Job talks about himself in chapter 29 of his book, it sounds remarkably similar to the human righteousness Paul laundry-listed in Philippians 3. Job claimed works of social justice, compassion, and various things that we (and God) would find hard to condemn. It’s all so “blameless and upright.” Yet something is missing.
Loving God Without God
In fact, it’s the same thing that often goes missing in the life of typical Christians who have managed to master Christian behavior. Their lives may look beyond reproach, but at the same time can feel strangely insular.
I’ve been there. Christianity ends up being a cultural cocoon of sorts, a lifestyle of service, works, and deeds without an experiential firsthand connection with God Himself.
It’s like a marriage where the frustrated wife asks her clueless husband, “Do you love me?” “Sure I do,” he shoots back. “I take the trash out. I plunge the toilet. I mow the grass every week. I do everything I’m supposed to do!” “Thank you,” she says, “But do you love me?”
Similarly, God might say, “I like your seriousness and your drive for perfection. But…”
“But what?” I say. “I’m doing everything I possibly can. What else could you want? Foreign missions? Service down at the food shelter? Junior High camp counseling?”
Like Job, we’ll rarely get a direct answer to those questions.
What I Have Is Already Good Enough
How could God tell us He wants us to have something real, when we think we already have it?
As in Job’s narrative, God almost always goes to work without up-front explanations. Reasons wouldn’t work anyway, due to our inability to understand where we’re stuck.
Instead, He starts off by delivering the dramatic push forward that we sometimes need.
Conversations, prayer, seeking, and faith follow.
His perfection, not ours, begins to take shape.
This is Part 1 of a series on the book of Job